Georgia farmers started their peanut harvest a few weeks ago. And despite a searing summer drought, yields are okay. Even better news is that prices are the highest in years, say University of Georgia experts.
"It's amazing that we're sitting as good as we are right now," said John Beasley, a Cooperative Extension peanut agronomist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Georgia's peanut harvest is at its peak, Beasley said. But it's three weeks behind its typical schedule. That's because some farmers had to delay planting due to a cool, dry spring.
The dry spring quickly turned into an extreme summer drought, hurting peanuts and other row crops. Triple-digit heat in August blasted peanut plants above ground and the developing nuts under ground.
Timely rainfall, though, sustained the crop in places, along with a lot of water from irrigation. As of Oct. 7, a Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service survey of UGA Extension county agents assessed 90 percent of the crop as good to excellent.
Farmers are expected to average 2,900 pounds per acre this harvest. That's 150 pounds more than last year. "Considering the way we started out, that's a good yield," Beasley said. Georgia's average has been as high as 3,450 pounds per acre in recent years.
Farmers will harvest 520,000 acres, 55,000 less than last year. The total crop should be 750,000 tons, or 40,000 less than last year. Georgia grows about half of the U.S. peanut crop each year.
The summer heat and drought hurt other peanut-producing states such as Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina more than they did Georgia, said Nathan Smith, a UGA Extension agricultural economist.
The weather-related losses, and a dwindling surplus, have pushed prices to as high as $500 per ton. These are the highest prices since Congress ended the peanut quota program, which guaranteed farmers $610 per ton, in 2001.
Prices two years ago were $355 per ton because of a U.S. surplus of 1 million tons, Smith said. The surplus is now expected to be 490,000 tons. The industry likes to keep a 300,000-ton surplus each year to help meet the demand the following year.
This is good news for farmers. "Looking at that kind of surplus," Smith said, "sets us up for a good marketing year next year, too."
If the weather remains favorable, with isolated showers to soften the ground followed by clear, dry days, farmers should keep getting good yields statewide, Beasley said. With the harvest running late, though, cold weather may threaten it later this month and in November.