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Drought, Rain Yield Best, Worst Georgia Peanuts

This year's Georgia peanut harvest survived summer droughts and heavy rains at harvest time to produce some of the best of times and some of the worst for farmers.

"Across the state, we are seeing everything from some of the best yields in years to some of the worst yields," said John Beasley, a University of Georgia Extension Service peanut scientist.

The harvest is winding down now, Beasley said.

"We had an interruption of two weeks of rainy weather the weeks of Sept. 30 and Oct. 7," he said. "Hurricane Fran came through and brought a lot of rain. And that gave us weather that's not very conducive to harvest."

When the bad weather hit, some growers had already dug their peanuts, which were laying on the ground to dry and be harvested. Others had peanuts that were mature enough to be dug but were still in the ground.

"Those under the ground weren't hurt as badly as those on top of the ground," Beasley said.

Once the weather cleared, though, it was perfect.

"We've had good harvest weather lately: clear days with low humidity and a good breeze to help cure peanuts in the windrow," Beasley said. "We were only 50 percent harvested at the first of October, but (going into the last week) we had probably less than 5 percent left to harvest."

Normally, the peanut crop is two-thirds to three-fourths harvested by Oct. 1.

"Because we only harvested 50 to 60 percent before that time, it's hard to tell how much loss we suffered from the rains," Beasley said. "It was some, but not a lot when averaged across the state."

The estimated average yield for this year's crop, as of Oct. 1, was 2,550 pounds per acre.

"I don't think that will change much," Beasley said. "I talked to a county agent from Stewart County, and he said he was seeing some of the best yields they'd ever had. And theirs is mostly nonirrigated fields."

In 1994, peanuts slipped behind cotton in crop value after reigning as the state's No. 1 crop for many years.

Last year Georgia growers planted almost 600,000 acres of peanuts and harvested 2,390 pounds per acre. This year's crop is down to 533,000 acres. An increase of 160 pounds per acre is projected.

Georgia's peanut crop is worth more than $500 million to farmers and about $2.5 billion to the state's economy.

The state produces about 44 percent of the nation's peanuts. An estimated 6,000 peanut farmers are scattered across 75 Georgia counties and grow an average of 88 acres of peanuts.

About 75 percent of Georgia's peanuts are used to make peanut butter.

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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