Mississippi farmers triple peanut plantings

Associated Press

Mississippi farmers moved from ninth to seventh this year among peanut-growing states, more than tripling the number of acres planted in peanuts.

Fresh figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show Mississippi farmers put 50,000 acres into peanuts this year, up sharply from the estimated 15,000 acres planted in 2011.

The increase leap-frogged the Magnolia State over Oklahoma and Virginia on the top 10 list of peanut-planting states.

All 10 leading peanut states in terms of total acreage all expanded peanut plantings this year. Plantings in sector leader Georgia rose almost 50%, going from 475,000 to 710,000 acres.

All told, about one-third more land was put into peanuts this year than last, going from 1.14 million to 1.53 million acres, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

"Hopefully we're not going to plant too many and kill the market," said Emory Murphy, assistant executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission.

Winter contract prices of up to $750 a ton encouraged planting, said Mike Howell, the peanut expert at the University of Southern Mississippi's Agricultural Extension Service. And in Mississippi, where Birdsong Peanuts had a single collection point in Aberdeen since 2008, Golden Peanut Co. LLC, of Alpharetta, Ga. - 1 of the nation's biggest peanut companies - plans one south of Greenwood and Clint Williams Co. is setting up collection points in Greenwood and Clarksdale.

Low prices in 2010 meant farmers didn't plant many peanuts, and drought made for bad harvests, Howell said.

Murphy said, "It's just the normal cycle of growing any crop. It kind of goes with prices. Prices weren't what they should have been. Then there was a reduction in acres last year. In Georgia, we had the lowest acres since back to the 1920s. Prices went back up."

Peanut butter prices are at a 10-year high, with creamy peanut butter averaging $2.97 a pound in May, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. It said prices averaged $2 to $2.12 for the past four years, but have averaged $2.57 or more since January.

"Until we get a new crop of peanuts coming in around the first of September, it looks like peanuts are going to be kind of tight," Howell said.

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