September 12, 2012 1:46:31 PM
HATTIESBURG -- Hurricane Isaac's rains came at the right time for peanuts in southeast Mississippi, which got more than a foot and a half of rain in some spots.
The area's goober peas are looking really good, but now farmers need dry weather for harvesting, says Heath Steede, George County director for the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
"In spots, we had 18 to 20 inches of rain when the storm came through, so we don't need any more," Steede said. "Now we need a little bit of dry weather to get the crop harvested."
Harvesting peanuts is a two-stage process. First an inverter digs them up and turns them over, exposing the roots to the air. After they have dried in the field for three or four days, a combine harvests them, said Charlie Stokes, Extension agronomic crops agent in Monroe County.
"Peanuts benefit a lot from late August and early September rains," Stokes said. "Those rains we had from the storm really helped finish off the crop."
Too much rain at harvest turns fields to mud, bogging down tractors and leaving flipped peanuts muddy. Soil that is too dry rips peanuts off the roots and leaves them in the ground. Peanuts drying in the field can stand some rain, but too much can cause them to deteriorate as they wait for the combine.
The peanuts in Coahoma County, where about 10,000 of the state's 47,000 acres are planted, look really good, says Coahoma County director Don Respess.
Mississippi's peanut acreage is nearly triple last year's, when 14,000 acres were planted, boosting the state from ninth to seventh among 10 peanut-producing states.
The crop is slightly ahead of schedule, with 13 percent dug up as of Sept. 9 -- more than double the 5-year average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. About 84 percent of the crop is rated in good or excellent condition.
Mississippi is now ranked seven out of the nation's 10 peanut-producing states. Last year, the state was No. 9.
Respess said peanuts are still maturing in Coahoma County, which got only about an inch of rain from the hurricane's remnants.
"Our peanut acres primarily came from cotton ground, and about 80 percent of them are irrigated," Respess said. "This is the first year we've had peanuts in the county in about 25 years. It's a new crop to most growers, but I think it fits the Coahoma County growing systems well."
Many growers are still determining irrigation needs for their peanut acres.
"We're not used to irrigating something this late," Respess said. "We planted in late April and May and will start our harvest in the middle of September."
Disease has been a bit of a problem this year in Coahoma County, largely because producers there are unfamiliar with peanut diseases, Respess said. Neither southeast nor northeast Mississippi peanuts suffered from any significant insect or disease pressures this year.
John Michael Riley, Extension agricultural economist, said prices for peanuts have been averaging about 34 percent higher than in 2011.
"The extreme drought that plagued southern Georgia in 2011 pushed prices higher," Riley said. "Throughout much of 2012, these have been mostly steady between 33 and 35 cents per pound, but recent improvements in the national crop's condition have pressured prices a bit."