Malcolm Broome is an evangelist for the peanut – understandable since he’s the executive director of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association.
He’s also proud to let you know that he’s one of the last Extension folks that went all the way from being a 4-H youth agent to assistant county agent to county agent. “I then went to Mississippi State University to get a PhD and was a state Extension specialist.”
Broome retired as the state forage specialist and moved back to where he grew up around Hattiesburg, Miss.
The timing of his return was fortuitous. “It just so happened that, at one point, I was county agent in Forrest County for about 10 years. Two of the biggest and longest peanut growers – Joe Morgan and Dan Hensarling – whom I’d known as county agent, asked ‘would you be interested in running the Peanut Growers Association? We’ve got to have somebody and we can’t do it off the tractor.’”
Broome was very interested and has now been on the job for six years. “I go all over the place – the Southeast, D.C. – to promote peanuts, and I really enjoy it. We do a lot of humanitarian work, as well.”
How has peanut acreage in Mississippi done in recent years?
“In 2010, we had 17,000 acres. Those acres dropped to 14,000 in 2011. There was a big drought out in Texas in 2011, and the price went through the roof. That led to Mississippi planting 45,000 in 2012. The next year acres were at 32,500 and, in 2014, we had 30,000 acres.”
Asked about challenges for growing peanuts in the state, Broome lists three that producers must contend with.
Challenges to Mississippi growers
“First, you must have specific equipment that is only used for peanut production. Traditional farming uses a tractor and maybe a cotton picker and/or a combine. Peanuts require more – maybe a $1 million investment, or better. The farmer will need a digger/inverter, a peanut combine and a peanut buggy, or basket, to carry the peanuts to the 18-wheeler trailer.”
Second, peanut maturity takes place at about 130 to 140 days after planting. “That means the crop needs to be planted as early as possible. When they’re ready, the peanuts need to be dug out or the weather can become a factor. You can’t dig peanuts once the soil gets wet or you’ll leave your profits in the field.”
Third, to justify the equipment expense, Broome says the soil needs to be a good, sandy loam. “The soil needs some depth so the roots can penetrate. Heavy soils that tend to stay wet will grow peanuts, but the possibilities of digging the peanuts out successfully are much lower. That’s why Georgia is ideal for peanuts – the bottom third of that state is sandy.
“Plus, you need at least 300 acres and a three-year rotation. Research backs that up. Some people do grow peanuts behind peanuts. If the prices are good, they can stand the 400- to 800-pound drop in yield and still be okay.”
All that adds up to a major decision for a soybean producer wanting to make the switch to peanuts. “He’ll have to purchase the equipment and will need 800 or 900 acres so he can do the necessary rotation. And that rotation can’t include soybeans – both the crops are legumes. That means the rotation would probably include corn or cotton.”
What about the benefits of growing peanuts?
“The rotation requirements are a benefit -- that really helps yields of all the crops.
“Also, generally, year in and out, once the investment is made, peanuts offer more profit per acre than other crops. It is possible for the return on investment to be in the $200-profit range per acre with a 4,000 pound yield.”
Mississippi peanut producers now have access to buying points around the state. “Soybean and corn producers have to transport their crops to the elevator. With peanuts, the buyer will position trailers in the field and pay the transportation costs to the buying point where the crop is taken for grading and drying.”
There are several types of peanuts, says Broome.
“The Virginia peanuts are rather large and are mostly grown in, no surprise, Virginia and the Carolinas.”
“The Spanish variety is grown mostly in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Another variety they grow there is Valencia on limited acres.”
The largest acreage of peanuts grown are the Runners, which contains several varieties. “They make up 75 to 80 percent of the peanut crops grown in the United States. Ninety-five percent-plus of the peanuts grown in Mississippi are Runners.
“Currently, the favorite variety everyone is planting is Georgia-06G. With that variety, nationwide, we were at two tons average yield per acre. Twenty years ago, 2,500 pounds was a great yield. Now, Mississippi has some producers that are getting yields well over 5,000 pounds per acre.”
Queried on the future of peanut production, Broome points to high-oleic varieties. “In the last few years, there has been a lot of talk about high-oleic soybeans, high-oleic peanuts. The high-oleic oil tends to extend the shelf life of peanuts, keep them from going rancid. We’re beginning to get some high-oleic varieties coming into production now. There are two varieties coming out of the Florida breeding program.
“After visiting with the manufacturers that use peanuts in things like ‘Snickers’ and ‘Payday’ candy, it seems they’re leaning towards wanting the high-oleic peanuts. But until the high-oleic varieties catch up to the Georgia06G yields, and barring a premium being paid, they’ll only be planted on limited acreage. If the yield lag is worked out, I think you’ll see the transition to high-oleic varieties.”
Broome also plays up the role the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation (SPFF) plays in the health of the crop.
“The SPFF is made up of Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. The group has a lobbyist in D.C. that helped make sure that peanuts did well in the last farm bill.
“No one thought soybeans, cotton and corn prices would drop so much in recent months. But in doing so, the producers that are able to grow peanuts are likely increasing their acreage in 2015. If that happens, of course, we’ll have an increased carryout. That means in 2016 we’ll need a good export market or the price could be depressed.
“There are two big buyers of peanuts in the South: Golden Peanut and Tree Nuts Company and Birdsong Peanuts. Both of those are buying peanuts in Mississippi. Golden is a subsidiary of ADM and Birdsong is a 100-year-old family company.”