Mississippi peanut growers will finish planting on time and will fare better than last year as long as Mother Nature cooperates.

Peanut planting began the first week of May and was slated to wrap up by June 1.

“Planting is going well so far thanks to the moist soil,” said Mike Steede, Mississippi State University Extension Service director in George County. “We need the moisture for the seeds to germinate. The rain we got in the beginning of the month has created some optimal conditions for now.”

Additional rain is needed to keep planting on track.

“We are going to need a little more rain to get the rest of the crop planted successfully,” said Joe Morgan, a peanut grower in Hattiesburg and president of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association. “Some more rain will help us get everything planted by the end of May.”

Morgan is planting 900 acres in the Hattiesburg area, part of the 23,000 to 25,000 total acres predicted to be planted this year statewide. Total acreage planted last season was 20,000.

Mike Howell is the area agronomic crops Extension agent based in Harrison County. He said 25 percent to 30 percent of the crop is planted, and growers are optimistic about the season.

“There are some good contracts on this year’s crop,” he said. “It looks like peanuts will go for $450 a ton, which is up from last year’s $425 a ton. This is good news, especially after the past season.”

Last spring’s rains delayed planting and then even heavier rains in the fall pushed harvest back, causing significant losses.

“The weather contributed to 90 percent of last year’s yield loss,” Howell said.

Steede said almost 2,000 acres in the state were never harvested because of rainy weather. Despite the losses in 2009, the crop was valued at $11 million.

“Growers in our area lost about 10 percent of the crop in 2009,” he said, “We are all optimistic that this season is going to go better. We just need the weather to cooperate.”

Weather isn’t the only challenge peanut farmers are facing these days. Many growers are experiencing problems with wild pigs.

“Wild pigs are more than a nuisance for many growers,” Steede said. “They can uproot entire rows in one night and cause significant damage to fields.”

Steede said growers are relying on trapping and hunting to help control the wild pig populations near their properties.

Peanuts are a relatively new crop for the state and despite some challenges, enthusiasm for growing the profitable crop continues.

“Being new in the industry means we have less disease pressure,” Howell said. “We haven’t yet experienced the diseases that other states face. Farmers here like to rotate peanuts with cotton, and some have completely replaced cotton with peanuts.”

Growers like Morgan, who has been planting peanuts since 1989, look forward to seeing what future seasons bring.

“I’m an eternal optimist, I guess,” he said. “I have high hopes that we’ll do pretty good this year.”