“There’s still grower interest in peanuts, but price will determine what kind of acreage we end up with. If we can get a $600 contract, I think Mississippi will be in the 15,000 to 18,000 acre range. If we can get something in the $700 range — and I think that’s where we need to be, given the carryover, and to be competitive with $1-plus cotton — we could see 20,000 to 25,000 acres.”

Acreage in the state last year was 18,137, down slightly from 2009. About 50 percent of the acreage is in the Lucedale area, 20 percent in the Aberdeen-Columbus area, 20 percent in the Greenwood/Tchula area, and the rest in the Port Gibson area. “The 2010 season got off to a really good start,” Howell says, “with only minor weather delays. Insect and disease pressures were low for most of the season, although we had a fall armyworm outbreak early in the year, particularly in the south part of the state, and later in the season white mold was a major problem in the south.

“The north part of the state was dry most of the year, and the last six weeks to two months of the season we were really wishing we could get some more rain. That led to some yield loss, with pods not filling out, particularly for the later-planted peanuts. And farmers just weren’t able to get diggers in the field because the ground was so hard.”

With the increased interest in peanuts in Mississippi in recent years, several research projects have been launched, and in 2009, with funds from the Mississippi Peanut Promotion Board, two Peanut Learning Centers were established, one at Hamilton, the other at Lucedale, to educate growers and others about peanuts and peanut production.