Most Carolina-Virginia peanuts were planted about three weeks ago. At that time growers were optimistic, hoping for an excellent year. But these days peanut growers are frequently looking up at the sky, hoping to see a fertile darkening cloud on the horizon.
On U.S. Drought Monitor maps, over half of North Carolina, the peanut growing region of Virginia and virtually all of South Carolina currently has less that ideal moisture. Some growers are sweating the situation out, hoping and praying for adequate moisture to get their peanut crops up and viable.
"I'd say peanut growers are getting ready to do a rain dance," says Bob Sutter, N.C. Peanut Growers Association. The NCPGA is located in Nashville, N.C., a little town on US 95 in the northern part of North Carolina.
"Some folks up in the northeast got a shower yesterday (June 8)," he says, "but it was a small one, without much moisture. Things are really getting rough."
"If you are a grower, there is really not much you can do," Sutter adds, "unless you have irrigation. And the fact is we don't have that many acres of peanuts that are irrigated. The only consolation, I think, is that most of the peanuts are on the very best land available, which could mitigate the results of dry weather somewhat. What we are doing more than anything else, is just hoping for rain, but today it doesn't seem to be on the horizon."
The weather was a bit dry when peanut growers were planting so Sutter thinks many of the growers planted a little bit deeper to take advantage of what soil moisture there was in the ground. On the other hand, three weeks ago, they didn't expect this drought to stretch out the way it has done.
The posted price that the U.S. Department of Agriculture puts out continued to climb through May.
"That was in anticipation of supplies getting a little short before harvest," Sutter says, "because supplies in the warehouse may be insufficient to meet demands prior to harvest. With the season starting out dry, expectations are on the negative side. But peanuts are a resilient crop so you just never give up on them."
In fact, Sutter notes, it is way too early to talk about a crop failure "because it could rain tomorrow and things would be okay.
"But that doesn't remove the cloud over the possibility of an excellent crop," he adds, "which was what everybody was hoping for. Of course, everybody is hoping for an excellent crop every year, but I'm talking about the supply situation. Things will get a little tight in the market before harvest."
Sutter says at this point he doesn't know the number of peanut acres planted in the state or region, but that he will get that report, soon, at the end of June. He does anticipate that growers dropped 4,000-5,000 acres of peanuts this year, compared to last year.
Peanut farmers are a little discouraged by the weather here, but things are tough all over for peanut growers. Sutter says in West Texas farmers were irrigating prior to planting peanuts. They reported after the irrigation unit went by, before the rig made a full cycle around the field, the ground was again too dry to plant.
"They did get a lot of peanuts planted in the Southeast," Sutter adds, "but I think it is even drier there than it is here. If you look at the weather map today… we are dry and hot but we are not as bad off as they are in other parts of the country."
Learn more about the N.C. Peanut Growers Association by visiting www.aboutpeanuts.com.