Albany -- Peanuts are one of south Georgia's top crops, but they could be in short supply this year.
South Georgia farmers likely will plant far fewer acres of peanuts this year. Add the potential for dry weather, and yields could be way down. That worries the Georgia Peanut Producers Association.
Georgia farmers planted about 580,000 acres of peanuts last year, about 25 percent below previous years. State ag experts expect even fewer acres planted this year, and that could cause a peanut shortage. University of Georgia Agronomist Dr. John Beasley said "certainly if we drop acreage and have some kind of drought or anything that cuts yield potential, we could be short of peanuts."
State Ag experts say already with a deficit of seven inches of rainfall, drought is a real possibility. University of Georgia Agrometerologist Dr. Joel Paz said "we're predicting a drier than normal spring."
More South Georgia farmers are planting corn this spring, to take advantage of high commodity prices. Corn needs irrigation, leaving peanuts to non-irrigated fields. Dr. Beasley said "they've got an opportunity to plant corn at four dollars a bushel. They are going to start planting corn and put it under irrigation, so we are expecting our percentage under irrigation to drop this year."
And state ag experts worry that dry land peanuts will not yield well. Dr. Paz said "for those who are in dry land, they are in increased risk of having a poor crop, if we continue to have dry weather into early spring and summer."
Usually South Georgia farmers produce 50 percent of their peanuts on irrigated fields, but state experts expect most to take a chance on dry land crops, which is risky. U.S.D.A. National Peanut Research Lab Leader Dr. Marshall Lamb said "it's going to be a very expensive year to farm with the fuel prices we have, and a lot of fertilizers the way the prices have gone up. So farmers are going to have to make the right decisions."
Farmers could profit with more corn, rotating their fields off peanuts for a year and making more money with that crop. But the Georgia Peanut Producers Association for the first time in years worries about a shortage.
Peanut farmers say that if they get good spring and early summer rain, they should produce a good yield.
Marketing experts told the Peanut Producers that the salmonella scare at Worth County's Peter Pan peanut butter plant has not hurt consumer confidence.
The C.D.C. Reports that more than 400 people in 44 states were sickened by peanut butter tainted with salmonella produced at the Sylvester Con Agra plant.
But peanut market analysts say that peanut butter and other peanut products sales rose by more than ten percent since the recall. Tyron Spearman, editor of the Peanut Market News said "I'm sure they discarded some of the other peanut butter and bought new, so the consumers are sticking with peanut butter. And that's good news for peanut farmers, that their demand will continue."
Production at the Con Agra plant is still stopped while they make the clean up needed to insure safe peanut butter production.