As peanut market prices continue to offer a reliable toehold for Arkansas growers struggling against depressed commodity prices, acreage for the sandy-soiled legume continues to expand incrementally one season to the next.
According to agronomists with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Arkansas growers are expected to plant about 25,000 acres of peanuts over the next few weeks.
While neighbors such as Georgia and Texas — two of the nation’s largest peanut producers, with more than 1 million peanut acres between them — might not notice such an increase, for Arkansas, it represents exponential growth over the past decade (in 2010, for example, Arkansas growers planted about 560 acres of peanuts).
Scott Stiles, an economist with the Division of Agriculture, estimated total costs per acre, which include both fixed and variable input costs, at about $625 for acre. The average yield for Arkansas peanuts in 2016 was about 2.4 tons per acre, with prices averaging $372 per ton, or about $893 per acre.
Travis Faske, plant pathologist and interim peanut agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said Arkansas peanut growers are enjoying higher yields than some of the traditional peanut strongholds across the country, due in part to its novel aspect in the state.
“In the last two years, our average yield per acre has been higher than many other states,” Faske said. “We have virgin ground, where we haven’t had peanut production before. If you go into a field that’s had cotton for 40 years and you plant peanuts for the first time, the yields are often higher. You don’t have the severity of diseases to deal with.
“Oftentimes, yields are higher at first, and then level out over time, depending on production,” he said. “The other advantage we have is that most of our peanuts are irrigated — and we have plenty of water to irrigate with, and that also helps.”
Faske said peanut growers in the state — most of whom are concentrated in the northeast Delta counties such as Randolph, Craighead, Mississippi and Lawrence counties — typically face challenges similar to those found in other row crops.
“It’s usually weeds first, then insects and disease,” Faske said. “But with peanuts, disease supersedes the insect pressure.”
As with other crops, Arkansas peanut growers can expect to encounter their share of Palmer amaranth (commonly known as pigweed), as well as some field bindweed — which, as the name implies, tends to wrap the roots of neighboring plants together.
A new issue Arkansas growers dealt with in 2016 was pod rot, which often occurs in dryland corners and areas where plants remain saturated for an extended period of time near or during harvest.
“Peanuts aren’t built like rice,” Faske said. “They’re not meant to sit in water for a long time. They want well-drained soil, so that pods aren’t sitting in wet soils for long periods of time.”
Randolph County Cooperative Extension Service chair Mike Andrews said that although peanut growers in his county enjoyed dry weather for harvest last October, the substantial summer rains that cost the state approximately $50 million in crop losses did affect the overall yield and quality of the final peanut crop to a small degree.
“We received 14-16 inches in just few days in the middle of August,” Andrews said. “Peanuts need a small amount of water, in a timely fashion, and we got way too much water, all at once. It hurt the low ends of fields, and the yields. The quality was down by at least a couple of grades.”
Faske said that generally, about 40 percent of pesticides sprayed on peanuts are fungicides — far higher than in other major Arkansas row crops.
“For our growers, the main disease pressure is southern blight, although most of our growers don’t see the same severity that growers in the southeast deal with, where they’ve had a long history of peanut production,” he said. “There’s also a fungus called Sclerotium rolfsii, which can be a problem in some fields. That’s what most of the growers are treating for.”