There is good news coming out of Mississippi’s peanut harvest this season.

According to Mike Howell, Extension area agronomist based in Harrison County, “Our peanut yields are looking real good. I haven’t heard any numbers come in the last few days, but just about everybody is looking at close to a 2-ton average. Some may push a 3-ton average. Statewide, we could end up averaging 2 tons.”

Harvest was delayed minimally this season by rain, “but to tell you the truth, we probably needed those few days to catch a break,” said Howell, who estimated the state at about 70 percent to 75 percent harvested by Nov. 3.

High yields are being reported in every growing region in Mississippi, according to Howell. “The northeast part of the state is doing better than it’s ever done. It’s amazing what a little rain will do for peanuts.”

Howell still doesn’t see Mississippi peanut acreage expanding considerably in 2009, with acres holding steady in the southeast and Delta. The northeast “is going to pick up again. They were close to 8,000 acres this year, and they’ll likely increase over that next year. One thing that may slow it down a little bit is that peanuts are now back down to loan rate. But even $355-per-ton peanuts beat 50-cent cotton.”

Howell says 20,800 acres of peanuts were planted in Mississippi in 2008. “I’m guessing we’ll have 22,000 acres to 23,000 acres next year. I don’t want to see acres expand too quickly. Peanuts are different from anything we’ve ever grown. A grower needs to take his time and learn how to produce a peanut properly before he gets in too deep. Another factor that will pressure expansion has been the uptick in corn and bean prices.”

Clayton Lawrence, Lucedale, Miss., peanut producer and president of the Mississippi Peanut Producers Association, believes peanut prices — and acreage — will be pressured by a large supply. “On harvest throughout the United States, we’re hearing that Georgia is going to have a pretty big crop. If that happens, then the carryover will increase, and we may not be looking at quite as good a price, especially when compared to grains.”

Lawrence said he contracted most of his peanuts early this spring for around $500 a ton. “As it turned out, it was wise to contract early this year. Last year, it probably didn’t hurt you if you didn’t contract early because we had a short crop.”

Lawrence produces about 350 acres of peanuts every year, and was just finishing up harvest of the crop in early November. “From the end of July, we had just about ideal conditions for producing peanuts, close to about an inch of rain a week. I don’t have any exact figures, but I say we’re above average on yield this year.”

A new purchasing point for peanuts opened at Aberdeen, Miss., this season, Howell noted. “They contracted about 8,000 acres and they’re looking for more acres this year.”

Howell says peanuts in areas affected by hurricanes Gustav and Ike “got a lot of water on them, but the water didn’t stand, and there were really no effects at all. We did have an early frost this year which may have hurt us a little bit. Some peanuts weren’t quite ready to harvest when the frost came. We had to start getting them out of the ground after that. We’ll have to see how they end up.”

Lawrence said one key to producing a crop during hurricane season “is to keep your fungicide program going. They’re not hurricane proof or drought resistant, but they can stand a lot of moisture and dry weather.”

Lawrence, who has been producing peanuts near Lucedale for 10 years, rotates peanuts in a three-year rotation — two years of cotton followed by a year of peanuts. “During those two years, you want to control all your volunteer peanuts. If you go with peanuts following peanuts, sometimes the peanuts do better the second year. But you’re just playing with a loaded gun the longer you go without rotation. That’s what we want to stress.”

A peanut research program for Mississippi peanut growers is under way in the state, notes Powell, and this should start paying off soon. “We’re looking at varieties and general agronomic factors to see what we can do to help growers make better peanuts. We’re pretty excited about what may be coming.”

The National Peanut Lab planted a trial of 28 peanut varieties on Lawrence’s farm. “We excited to see what those yields are and what they could mean for Mississippi,” Lawrence said. “In our annual meeting in January, we hope to have all the information on these new varieties and the new research.”

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com