Mike Howell, state peanut specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said many of the factors favoring Mississippi's crop this year, started last year.
"The 2011 drought in Texas reduced the amount of peanuts on the national market. That helped prices at harvest time, and prices are still very good," he said. "Mississippi fields led the nation in yield, with 4,200 pounds per acre last year. A shortage of peanuts going into this season will make for another year of great prices as consumer demand remains strong."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's prospective plantings report, released March 30, predicted a 233 percent increase in Mississippi's peanut acreage. The state will have about 50,000 acres, compared to 15,000 acres last year. Peanuts are a popular crop to rotate with cotton and corn.
Howell said the planting has gone well this spring. Attention will soon turn from planting issues to disease concerns.
"By the middle of May, peanuts were about 90 percent planted, and some fields were approaching time for their first fungicide application," he said. "The crop is right on time or a little early in some areas."
Malcolm Broome, executive director of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association, said the Texas shortage is bringing more peanut buyers to the state. Prices have reflected the crops' popularity with consumers.
"Normally, peanuts run $400 to $500 per ton, but they have been running as high as $750 per ton recently," Broome said. "They went as high as $1,000 per ton at the end of last year when the Texas yields were low."
While that price could look enticing, Broome said the start-up cost for new growers can be a major deterrent.
"Growers need at least 300 acres of peanuts to justify the equipment investment," he said. "Hiring a custom harvester is not an option because timing is critical at harvest time. Buying a planter, digger, combine and peanut buggy can tie up a million dollars real quick."
Broome said after the equipment expense is recovered, the cost of production is about $500 per acre, compared to $350 just a few years ago. Mississippi peanut fields average yields of 3,000 to 4,000 pounds per acre. Fungicide applications are another big part of the growing expense, because the crop needs six to eight sprayings to control diseases throughout the growing season.