Marshall Lamb, research leader for the USDA/ARS National Peanut Laboratory at Dawson, Ga., says the peanut market this year “is drastically different from last year. In 2012, we were under-supplied because of the drought-shortened 2011 crop and we needed a significant increase in acreage and production.

“We did increase acreage somewhat in 2012, but the big increase in production was a result of historically high yields — just over 4,100 pounds — which gave us an unprecedented production total of almost 3.2 million farmer stock tons.

“China has helped alleviate the surplus, but we will need a reduction in acres in 2013 to get supply back in balance with demand.”

With fewer peanut acres needed this year, some growers will use the cutbacks as an opportunity for rotation to non-legume crops. Don Self, Mississippi’s delegate to the National Peanut Board and a producer in Monroe County, Miss., says “If we don’t have a contract by March, we’ll cut way back on our peanuts to probably less than a third of last year’s acreage. That’s pretty much in line with what Dr. Marshall Lamb has said, that 35 percent would be a good number for growers to back off on acres.

“Everyone I’ve talked to feels things aren’t really favorable for a very good contract price this year, so this may be a good opportunity for us to back off and plant more some alternate crops — corn, cotton, or grain sorghum — and that’s what we’re planning to do at this point.”

 “We planted our entire acreage in peanuts last year. That was somewhat against my rule of thumb of adhering to a strict one-third rotation program, but for that kind of price we felt we could make a one-year exception.”

Self says peanut yields on his farm last year varied widely. “Because of late season leafspot, we wound up averaging about 4,200 pounds. We had some fields that picked over 6,000 pounds, while others that were devastated by the leaf spot had really low yields.

The rains we got during the season were very helpful, though and we were really pleased with our yields.”

Joe Morgan, president of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association, who farms with his son Joe Jr. just south of Hattiesburg, says “With both cotton and peanut prices expected to be down this year due to surpluses, we’re planning to plant 750 acres of corn – the most we’ve had in a long time, and about all the land we have under center pivots.

“We’ll drop back from the near 1,250 acres of peanuts we had last year to about 800 acres this time. Even when peanut prices are down, with good yields they still have a good profit potential.

“At this point,” Morgan says, “our plans for cotton are up in the air. We’ll just have to see how things go as we get a bit farther into the season. It could be that we’ll try double-cropping some of our wheat ground with cotton, or maybe we’ll plant some milo.”

The Morgans were winner of the top award in the association’s yield contest in the 800 acres and above category, with a 5,600 pound average for 2012.

“We’ve had consistently high yields the last three years, thanks to good weather and better-performing varieties,” Morgan says. “We planted 895 acres in 2010, with a 5,086 pound average, 835 acres in 2011, with a 5,077 pound average, and 1,244 acres in 2012, which produced our highest average ever.”