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Prospects for South Carolina peanut crop are robust

Blackville, SC — In 2015, heavy rains and flooding hit low country South Carolina at peanut harvest-time in October, ruining peanuts already dug and spread out to dry, and making many other fields too muddy to harvest. The “1,000-year flood” left 19 dead, caused almost $1.5 billion in damages and closed 400 roads and bridges.

Nathan Smith, a professor of agribusiness production at Clemson University, nevertheless predicted a bumper peanut crop in the Palmetto State for 2016, with record export sales, especially to China and Vietnam. Smith spoke at a Sept. 1 luncheon at the Edisto Research & Education Center, here, attended by about 200 South Carolina peanut growers and Clemson agriculture students.

“We expect 2016 will be a better year for South Carolina peanut farmers,” said Smith, a former peanut farmer in Georgia.

He said planted acreage is down 1 percent nationally, but up almost 3 percent in South Carolina this year, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects a 3.1 million-ton crop nationally, with total use of peanuts up 19 percent.

As of late August, he told the Peanut Field Day audience, about 15 percent of the state’s crop is in excellent condition and 60 percent is in good condition. That leaves an estimated 20 percent in fair condition due to heat and drought, he added. He expected the harvest to begin in mid-September and to be 80 percent complete by the end of November.

Average price per ton is $378.91 for “runners,” a variety largely grown in South Carolina; $425.15 for Virginia cocktail peanuts; and $608.88 for Spanish-type peanuts. About half the crop will be used for domestic food products, with the rest to be exported, crushed or used for seed. Shelled prices have firmed in the low 50-cent range, Smith observed.

The USDA projects a yield of 3,990 pounds per acre across all varieties, Smith told the luncheon audience, which spend the morning touring peanut fields by bus and vans to observe irrigation, weed control, variety performance and other research under way at Clemson’s Edisto row-crop research farms.

Georgia and four other states in the Southeast are the leading peanut growers in 2016 with 1.14 million acres planted in peanuts. Virginia and the Carolinas are next, with 215,000 acres; and New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas in the Southwest are third with 208,000 total acres.

“The number one thing about peanut crop profitability is picking the right variety to plant,” said James Thomas, talking about peanut variety performance in a field planted with several varieties.

Thomas, a core technician who has grown peanuts for 48 years, offered a helpful hint: “Don’t mow around your peanut fields. The mites will move from the grass to the field.”

Dan Anco, a peanut specialist at Clemson’s Edisto facility, emceed the luncheon program. He hailed the Peanut Field Day attendance by about 40 agriculture students as a sign more young people are choosing farming as a career. A South Carolina Farm Bureau representative told the audience a legislative proposal to cut farm water use may emerge from a study of ground water and surface water problems in the state.