An unpleasant surprise awaited many North Carolina peanut growers when they harvested their 2006 crop.
“The yields were not too bad, but market grades were lower than what they were expecting,” said David Jordan, North Carolina Extension peanut specialist. “The low grades were in some cases a shock.”
There was no one thing that can explain what happened, said Jordan. “A lot of little things didn't work out about this crop.”
But he did note one weather factor that was certainly an influence: The relatively early cooling off in the fall.
“The first frost was not particularly early, but temperatures dropped enough in late September that the plants most likely didn't have time to recover,” said Jordan. “In many cases, the crop just ran out of time to mature. That hasn't happened in a while. In the last few years, we had really good temperatures throughout the season. But in a year like 2006, the peanut plant can only make up for so much.”
When frost finally hit late in October, there was some damage, but it wasn't a big problem, he said.
Despite the cool temperatures, peanut yields in North Carolina were a touch above average, said Jordan. “But it was varied. Some farmers did really well, others were expecting better things. The weather was uncertain: There was too much rain at some times in some areas and not enough rain in a few areas.”
Jordan estimated the state yield would be about 3,000 pounds per acre, about 9 percent below the most recent USDA projection, and production would be around 127,000 tons.
Bob Sutter, chief executive officer of the North Carolina Peanut Growers Association, said he thinks this crop ended up a little above average.
“How much depends on who you talk to,” he said. “Some growers had excellent crops. Some had a total disaster. They got behind, then it got wet and they couldn't finish.
“We had a wide range of yields, but I would say it should average about 3,000 pounds per acre.”
He pegged plantings at 82,000 acres.
“Our state production is probably around 125,000 tons,” he said. “That will be below 2005, even though the yield was not much different. But plantings were down considerably from 95,000 acres in 2005.”
North Carolina's 10-year yield average is around 2,800 pounds per acre, he said.
“It has been increasing,” said Sutter. “That is partly because more of our plantings are on new or relatively new land. You can get an improved yield for one or two years.”
Contract activity will begin soon, and there is every reason to think that better prices may be offered this season.
“The supply has been reduced drastically, and demand continues to be strong,” said Sutter. “I am excited about the prospects for our peanuts this year.”
“Last year was our all-time low for plantings, but we think we will have more in 2007,” said Jordan. “Supply is much closer to demand.”
To enjoy a yield bonus when you plant on new land, peanut-style management is a necessity.
Don Nicholson, regional agronomist with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, reminds growers new to the crop that growing peanuts is a lot different than growing soybeans.
“It is a much more management-oriented crop,” he says. “You have to be on time for everything in a peanut crop. And you have to do your homework before you ever put the first seed in the ground. Soil sampling and adjusting the pH to the proper level is job No. 1.”
Getting soil acidity in proper balance can help with a special problem you can run into with this crop. Peanuts are more sensitive to zinc than most other field crops. If you plant peanuts in a field that has been fertilized with poultry litter, this can be a problem since poultry litter can contain high levels of zinc.
Where you have high zinc levels in light sandy soils that are prone to low pH, the danger is increased, says Nicholson, especially following a couple of years of heavy rain. One strategy for dealing with it is to raise the target soil pH to 6.4 to reduce zinc uptake.
Why does a relatively high pH lessen the problem of zinc toxicity in peanuts?
“With higher pH, more calcium is available to the plant in the soil,” says Nicholson. “The peanut's uptake of zinc is reduced.”
There is one possible drawback from higher pH, he says. “You can have problems of manganese deficiency. But this can be addressed through tissue sampling, with foliar applications of manganese if needed.”
Another good idea when planting peanuts on new ground is to inoculate to help the peanuts fix their own nitrogen, says Jordan. By getting the appropriate strains of bacteria in the soil, inoculation spares farmers the cost of applying nitrogen fertilizer, which would be relatively expensive compared to the cost of commercial inoculants.
Inoculation helps the process of converting nitrogen gas into a useable form so the peanuts can grow properly, Jordan said. The bacteria infects the roots of the peanut plant, allowing the peanut to fix the nitrogen.