Price will be the major determinant of how many acres Mississippi peanut producers plant this year, says Mike Howell, Mississippi State University Extension peanut specialist at Poplarville.

“That’s a big question right now, and nobody has any real insight,” he said at the annual convention of the Mississippi Agricultural Consultants Association.“Corn prices are going up, soybean prices are going up, cotton prices are going up — everything is moving higher, except peanuts.

There was an initial contract offering of about $550 per ton for 2011 production, and a few growers signed up part of their acres, but overall there has been very little activity. Most growers at that time were looking to contract in the $600 range.

“Right now, no contracts are available. Most economists are expecting there will be an offer soon, but nobody knows what it will be.”

The main reason for the delay in offering contracts, Howell says, is that the industry is trying analyze the carryover situation.

“At present, we have about 600,000 pounds in carryover, and the industry needs about 500,000 pounds. The problem, though, is that about half of the carryover is not edible peanuts. There were severe problems with aflatoxin last year, particularly in Alabama and Georgia last year. So, if we cut the 600,000 figure by about 50 percent, that puts us below where the industry needs to be with carryover.

Growers looking for $600-$700 contracts

“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.

Field days paid dividends for growers

“We had field days at both locations last year,” Howell says, “with excellent attendance; those who participated represented 67 percent of the state’s total acreage. End of season surveys indicated an average $20 per acre benefit to growers — almost a quarter-million dollars in value from attending those field days. One grower said information he received saved him $40,000 in fungicide costs during the season.

“We had several specialty tours for various groups, and individual growers could come by at any time to see what was going on with our research programs, which included trials for variety, planting date, fungicide efficacy, tillage, fertility, insect control, fungicide timing, rainfall simulation (in cooperation with USDA and the National Peanut Laboratory), and row pattern.”

Variety trials were conducted at Lucedale, Hamilton, and Stoneville, with two planting dates — late April/early May, and late May.

Seven varieties were in the trials: Georgia Green, which is on its way out; Georgia O6G; Georgia O9B, a new variety that’s going to be released this year; Georgia Greener, Georgia O7W, Florida 07, and AT 215. (AT 215 and Georgia O9B were not planted in the early planted trials, and the early planted trial at Hamilton was rained out.)

In the early variety trial at Lucedale, Howell says, Georgia 06G, with a 4,896 pounds per acre yield, and Georgia Greener, 4,840 pounds, came out on top. At Stoneville, results were much the same, with Georgia 06G and Georgia Greener at the top. Averaging the trials, those two varieties showed a significant yield advantage over others in the test, with Georgia Greener at 5,015 pounds and Georgia 06G at 4,961 pounds.

Georgia 06G and Georgia Greener top yielders

“In late-planted trials at Lucedale Georgia 06G, with 5,006 pounds, and Georgia Greener, with 4,959 pounds, again came to the top. Georgia 09B, with 4,821 pounds, did well and was comparable to Florida 07, with 4,731 pounds.

“I’m not sure what happened with the AT 215 variety — it’s a shorter-maturing peanut and we typically get pretty decent yields. We think it will have potential in the northern parts of the state, where we could plant a bit later and still have them mature on time.”

In the Hamilton late-planted trial, Georgia 06G and Georgia Greener were dead even, Howell says, with 3,409 pounds, followed closely by Georgia 09B, with 3,119 pounds. In the Stoneville late-planted trial, Georgia 06G came out on top, with 4,774 pounds, followed by Georgia Greener, with 4,506 pounds. Averaging the late-planted trials, Georgia 06G led, with 4,395 pounds, and Georgia Greener was runner-up, with 4,921 pounds.

“When we average all locations and planting dates, Georgia 06G was the leader, with 4,622 pounds, followed by Georgia Greener, 4,581 pounds; Georgia 07W, 4,136 pounds; Georgia Green, 4,076 pounds; and Florida 07, 4,069 pounds.

“We had a sizable shift in acres last year to Georgia 06G, with a lesser amount of Georgia Greener. I think many growers weren’t that familiar with Georgia Greener, but it’s a variety I believe we need to take another look at, based on its performance in our trials.”

Grade samples were taken from all of our trials, he says, but there was no significant difference in grade for any of the varieties.

In the 2011 season, Howell says, “We will continue to work with producers to utilize the Peanut Prescription Rx program that was developed by researchers in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida to help reduce the number of fungicide applications.

Reduces fungicide applications, lowers costs

“Most growers have traditionally been spraying every 14 days with some type of fungicide. With the Prescription Rx program, we’ve been able to calculate the level of risk of various diseases and reduce fungicide applications accordingly. This can be done on a computer, or manually with a pencil and a sheet of paper.” (Information on how the program works can be found at http://www.griffin.uga.edu/PeanutRx/)

For moderate to low risk situations, Howell says, producers have been able to eliminate three or more fungicide applications during the season for a considerable cost savings.

“In one whole farm evaluation of the Peanut Rx program, the grower saved $68 per acre across the entire farm, compared to a traditional spray program. The yield average was 4,006 pounds — the best in the farm’s history.”

The entire farm was scouted weekly, and fungicide recommendations were based on risk index in combination with weather data and scouting observations.

“We will continue to evaluate this program on a large scale basis,” he says, “and we’ll work with growers to show them firsthand how it works and the potential benefits. Reducing the number of fungicide applications can dramatically bring down their production costs — from $50 to $75 per acre in many cases.”

Plant pathologists and others involved with peanut production are continuing to tweak the program to make it more useful for growers, Howell says.

“I get a lot of questions, too, about tillage, particularly from new growers. Many of them use strip tillage, but they also want to know about the possibility of no-till or strip-till.

“We set up four tillage tests last year at Hamilton and Lucedale: full tillage, no-till, and two strip-till. At Lucedale, we saw no particular advantage for no-till or strip-till over full tillage, but at Hamilton we saw a slight advantage for the two strip-till systems.

“We’re hoping to continue the work this year and build our information database, including soil moisture and compaction data.”