Virginia peanut growers are hoping this year’s crop will be 26 percent larger than last year’s, a great recovery from recent years of low production.
“We’re looking at the largest per-acre yield for any state in the country this year,” said Spencer Neale, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation commodity marketing director. “Yields are expected to be 4,200 pounds per acre in Virginia, while national peanut yields will average about 3,800 pounds per acre.”
Decades ago Virginia growers raised more than 75,000 acres of peanuts, but they planted only 19,000 acres this year and 16,000 acres in 2012. By comparison, Georgia growers plant about 600,000 acres of peanuts annually.
“I think Virginia peanut production will run in a range from 16,000 to 22,000 acres for the foreseeable future,” Neale said. “Increasing acres beyond that means producers would have to invest in a lot of expensive equipment, and we have a lot of competing crops like cotton and soybeans. The people raising peanuts now are very efficient at it and are using the best possible land for that crop.
“But it’s still a very important crop in Southeastern Virginia,” he said. The 2012 Census of Agriculture counted 170 peanut farms in the nine Virginia counties where that crop is raised. Those farms generated $27.5 million in gross receipts that year.
This year, however, stored peanuts from last year’s crop will put downward pressure on prices for farmers, Neale added.
“Domestic demand has been pretty static for the past few years, so our best option is expanding the export market. And we are a pretty good exporter of peanuts. Our biggest market is Canada, but a lot of people have been looking at china as a possible growth market.”
Peanuts and peanut products remain a popular food in the United States. Neale said studies have shown Americans consume almost 3½ pounds of peanut butter per person annually.
That doesn’t include the estimated 2.8 million Americans who have peanut allergies, but researchers at North Carolina A&T State University have announced they have made positive progress in developing a treatment for peanuts that would break down allergenic proteins. The prospect of a process to make peanuts allergy-free is being watched closely by the industry, Neale said.
“We’re always trying to produce a safer product when it comes to food allergies; it’s in everyone’s best interest.”