Wet spring slowed Virginia, North Carolina peanuts

As in most of the Southeastern states, peanut acreage in Virginia and North Carolina will definitely fall below projections because of the soggy spring weather conditions.

But the exact plantings could not be estimated as of the beginning of June.

In Virginia, there is no doubt fewer peanuts were planted than last year.

“But I can't tell how much,” said Pat Phipps, Virginia Extension plant pathologist. “We had difficulty getting anything planted, and not much of the peanut crop was planted before May 1. Most acreage was planted from May 5 to May 15. We finally finished planting the last week of May.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture projected before planting that Virginians would seed 12,000 acres this year, about half of what they grew in 2008. But even that amount seemed unlikely thanks to the weather conditions.

“Earlier in the year, we thought we would have 10,000 acres of peanuts, but now I don't know if that many were planted,” said Phipps.

In North Carolina at the end of May, planting was about 81 percent complete, according to crop reports.

“But the real question is 81 percent percent of what?” said Bob Sutter, chief executive officer of the North Carolina Peanut Growers Association. “We expected 75,000 to 80,000 acres, but farmers may not make it.”

In the southeastern North Carolina counties like Bladen and Columbus, it was so wet this spring they couldn't plant anything, he said at the end of May. “If this continues, farmers will either plant peanuts in June, which they would rather not do, or plant beans instead of peanuts.”

Rainfall varied widely. In northeastern North Carolina, the peanut crop was substantially planted by the end of May.

Conceivably, the North Carolina peanut crop might be down as low as 60,000 acres from almost 100,000 acres in 2008. “We could be 20 percent to 40 percent off this season,” said Sutter.

From a supply perspective, that might not be entirely a bad thing. “We had a huge crop in 2008, and there are big inventories now. A smaller crop would help us work our way out of this.”

With a price-depressing surplus on hand, the price came down considerably.

“It is off $150 a ton from last year,” said Sutter. “That reduction has been hard for some of our farmers to absorb.”

The situation definitely favors higher yields. “If you are on the low end of the yield spectrum, it is difficult to pencil in a profit at $450 a ton. It is easier if you can expect to harvest 5,000 pounds.”

The first contract offers for Virginia peanuts were for $485 a ton, but the price for later offers has declined to about $455 a ton, he says.

One thing seems certain, he said. “Not many acres will be planted without a contract.”

One practice that helped many growers in Virginia this year was strip-tillage, said Phipps.

“It sure made planting go easier this spring when it was cold and wet and the farmers couldn't get into the fields.”

When they finally could, there wasn't much time to moldboard or apply Vapam, said Phipps. “In strip-tillage, we are strip-tilling at the same time we apply Vapam.”

Some farmers chose to plant a resistant variety and not use Vapam at all, which allowed for tillage and planting in a single trip .

“We have some CBR-resistant varieties,” he said. “Perry is the leading Virginia type and Georgia-02C is the leading runner.”

Georgia Green has been the choice in the past for runner plantings in Virginia, but this year, some farmers are planting AP- 4 and Fla-07R. Both have performed well in disease trials where tomato spotted wilt was a problem, and AP-4 has also done well under CBR pressure.

“The best runner variety for CBR resistance is Georgia-02C,” said Phipps. “But it wouldn't have been a good variety to plant in 2009: We were delayed so late that we didn't need a variety which matures any later than normal.”

Strip-tillage also greatly reduces the damage to peanuts from blown sand events, and there was a significant one this spring. Winds of up to 40 miles per hour caused extensive sandblasting in the North Carolina Coastal Plain. But the windstorm struck on April 22, when little of the peanut crop had been planted.

But it did damage the crops like peppers, tobacco and corn that had been taken to the field by that time.

“Here in Kinston, N.C.,we had transplanted some peppers just two days before the storm,” said Chris Jernigan, research operations manager at the Lower Coastal Plain Research Station. “All of that had to be transplanted again.”

The station’s tobacco largely escaped damage.

“This was probably due to the proximity of our tobacco fields to windbreaks and wood lines,” Jernigan said. “Some of the tobacco on neighboring farms had much more damage and the growers replanted a significant number of their fields.”

In Fremont, N.C., Craig West said he had to replant 20 acres of tobacco and said he felt fortunate he didn’t lose any more tobacco than that.

“We had 40-mile-per-hour winds all day long,” he told Southeast Farm Press. “We stopped setting out at lunch. The tobacco got sandblasted, and all 20 acres that we set out that morning had to be set over.

“Fortunately, we were able to find plants to replant with. We have a good stand now so the storm shouldn’t affect production. But the cost of the first planting — at least $200 an acre — was a complete loss.”

Windblown sand storms have occurred frequently in recent years, and farmers may want to consider some preventive measures, said Jernigan.

“We probably need to install more windbreaks, planting cedars along these lines, and leave hedgerows in place,” he said. “Should we really cut down every tree or bush growing on a ditch bank? This might be a good lesson for everybody.”

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TAGS: Peanuts
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