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Peanut producers looking for better year

Farmers live in “next-year” country. After the devastating 2011 drought in the Southwest, peanut growers are hoping for real change this year.

Those gathered for the 67th annual Texas and Oklahoma Peanut Seed Quality Meeting in conjunction with the Oklahoma Peanut Expo at the Quartz Mountain Resort in Lone Wolf, Okla., expressed those sentiments for the new season.

Kelly D. Chamberlin, USDA Agricultural Research Service peanut breeder, in Stillwater, Okla., said last year’s extreme stretch of drought and horrific heat hammered her research plots at Fort Cobb, Okla. The harsh weather even kept the new Red River Runner peanut from showing its stuff.

Key Points

2011 drought hammered Oklahoma-Texas peanut crop.

Producers and industry look for better season this year.

Peanuts still must compete with cotton and corn for acres.


“But don’t give up on the Red River Runner; it was a bad year,” Chamberlin noted.

Alan Ortloff of Clint Williams Co., Madill, Okla., agreed, citing the lackluster germination test results last year by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture for Red River Runner.

“From what we saw, it was clearly environmental,” Ortloff reported.

Chamberlin said molecular methods used for trait selection can speed up screening by two to three years in peanut breeding. But still, it takes about 10 years overall to introduce a new peanut variety like the Red River Runner. It was developed by the USDA breeding program.

Chamberlin is working on three advanced lines of peanuts for Texas, Oklahoma and North Carolina.

Hassan Melouk, veteran peanut breeder with the ARS-Oklahoma State University program in Stillwater, noted it took 26.5 inches of irrigation during last year’s historic drought just to keep the research plots of peanuts growing.

Never cool

Jason Woodward, Texas AgriLife Extension Service plant pathologist and statewide peanut specialist, Lubbock, concurred on the impact of last year’s drought and relentless heat.

Even on the higher elevation of the Texas High Plains, “It never cooled down in the evenings.”

Woodward said with an 85% overall moisture deficit, the peanut crop was behind all season.

“There was a big difference in a producer having limited irrigation for peanuts and moderate irrigation [available],” Woodward reported.

The peanut specialist expects Texas will grow about 100,000 acres of peanuts this year, hopefully, with much better moisture and temperature conditions. He said some in central Texas’ old traditional peanut country — which had opted in recent years to try cotton — may return to peanuts this year.

Some specialists and industry leaders equate cotton at 90 cents per pound and peanuts at $600 per ton. But depending on irrigation, 90-cent cotton might more likely equal $700-per-ton peanuts.

At $550-per-ton peanuts, economic analysis shows producers could do better with either cotton or corn.

Woodward noted Russian thistles (aka tumbleweeds) were bad on the Plains last year and are seen as a potential host for root knot nematodes this year. That could impact nematode control in peanuts.

John Damicone, OSU Extension plant pathologist, Stillwater, said 2011 was just bad.

Beyond last year’s drought, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture also noted some freeze damage that resulted in mushy peanut seed. Seed providers had to segregate some seed in response.

“It was a tough year, last year,” Damicone said. “I guess it’s showing up in the seed.”

Joe D. White, a Frederick, Okla., peanut grower and chairman of the Oklahoma Peanut Commission, is expecting better growing conditions this year.

Al Sutherland of Oklahoma Mesonet, Norman, said only 1910-11 could be compared to 2011 in Oklahoma; not even the Great Dustbowl of the 1930s or the extremes of the 1950s drought were comparable. Beyond the drought and heat, June of last year set a record for the number of days with sustained high winds. The many windy days, especially at that time, really zapped crops.

But the good news, Sutherland noted, is that the stubborn La Niña, a cooling of equatorial Pacific surface waters that encourages drought by keeping the jet stream to the north, may finally be giving way to El Niño, a warming of those Pacific waters that historically leads to more rain. Many parts of Texas and Oklahoma already were in far better shape going into this spring than last year. The drought appears to be lessening.

For more information, go to the Mesonet website at www.mesonet.org.

This article published in the May, 2012 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.