Peanuts at Edisto REC

Peanuts in a research plot stand ready for harvest at Clemson’s Edisto Research and Education Center in 2012. The record South Carolina peanut crop that year pumped more than $100 million into South Carolina’s economy.
Image Credit: Clemson University

SANTEE — The one certainty in agriculture is uncertainty, and that’s truer today than ever before for peanut farmers.

With decisions looming for planting their 2014 crops, more than 300 South Carolina peanut farmers gathered Jan. 30 seeking information on peanut production, marketing and legislation to help guide them.

“Every day is different in the peanut world, and we’re in transition now,” Tyron Spearman, executive director of the National Peanut Buying Points Association and editor of Peanut Farm Market News, told the group. “What’s your strategy this year? I suggest patience.”

“We anticipate acreage this year will go up a little bit, but we don’t expect the big jump we had in 2012,” said Scott Monfort, a peanut specialist with the Clemson University Extension Service. “We need to maintain our peanut acreage in order to facilitate crop rotation.”

How many acres farmers choose to devote to different crops will have a ripple effect on the South Carolina economy. Peanuts alone pumped more than $100 million into the state’s economy in 2012, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“We have tremendous potential for the development of peanuts,” South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said. “The recent announcement of more buying stations in South Carolina is very encouraging.”

Following a record peanut crop in 2012, South Carolina farmers dodged a bullet with a better-than-expected performance in rain-soaked 2013, when some parts of the state received up to 40 inches of rain during the key summer growing months.

“Peanuts weathered the storm compared to other crops last year,” Monfort said. “Although yields were down, grades were higher than average and helped offset yield declines.”

The variables that go into farmers’ choices on how many acres to plant resemble a college calculus problem, and farmers face a hesitant 2014 market, Spearman said.

Increased production in India and China is balanced against a drought in Argentina, he said. The net effect will be especially important to farmers in the United States, which, though third globally in peanut production, is the leading exporter of the crop.

Markets also will be affected by large stocks of peanuts on hand from previous years. About four billion pounds of U.S. peanuts are in commercial storage, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Farmers also face a new federal farm bill, currently before the U.S. Senate after two years of debate. Massive changes in regulations in the five-year bill are expected to affect farmers’ planting decisions for most row crops like peanuts.

“It ain’t a very inviting time right now,” Spearman said. “We don’t need a big increase in acres. We’ve got to find a market for them if you’re going to grow them.”

Monfort said that if South Carolina farmers choose to plant more acres in peanuts this year, the increase largely would be expected to come from a particular breed of peanuts know as high-oleic runners. Most of the peanuts grown in the state are Virginia-type. Runners are the dominant variety nationally, and high-oleic varieties recently developed by breeders have become prized by peanut buyers.

Those are among the varieties eyed by Shyam Tallury, a plant breeder specializing in peanuts who joined Clemson’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center last year as part of the Advanced Plant Technology program.

“Research is long-term, and plant breeding takes a lot of resources,” Tallury said, describing Clemson’s current research to the group. “It takes nine to 10 years to release a new variety. For that reason we try to be very judicious when we select parents for a new hybrid.”

Using conventional cross-breeding techniques and nurturing seeds in a Puerto Rican nursery during the winter, Tallury tries to infuse new hybrids with a balance of important characteristics from parent plants: disease and pest resistance, high yield and quality.

“We have to seek a balance. A hybrid can’t incorporate too many traits,” Tallury said. “Our goal is to select the balance of traits that best meet the needs of South Carolina growers.”

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