SANTEE -- More than 500 people gathered at the Santee Conference Center on Jan. 25 to hear how peanut production set a new record in South Carolina during 2017 and to learn what challenges lie ahead in 2018.

The session marked the 39th Annual S.C. Peanut Growers Meeting.

“The last two years have seen the highest number of acres that we’ve planted,” said Dell Cotton, a Virginia resident who serves as manager of the Peanut Growers Cooperative Marketing Association.

South Carolina farmers planted 120,280 acres of peanuts in 2017, compared to 108,074 acres in 2016. The nation as a whole planted 1,845,121 acres last year.

The Palmetto State’s peanut growers produced an average of 3,740 pounds of peanuts per acre, compared to the U.S. average of 3,798 pounds per acre. In comparison, South Carolina’s average production in 2016 was 3,300 pounds per acre.

Runner-type peanuts remained the top choice of growers in the state and across the Southeast.

Runner production totaled 2,527,871 tons in the Southeast, while the production of Virginia varieties totaled only 260 tons. Total peanut production for the Southeast was 2,528,434 tons in 2017.

“I’m really proud of you this year. We made our largest average yield ever,” said Richard Rentz of Branchville, who serves as chairman of the South Carolina Peanut Board. “God sent us adequate rainfall and moderate temperatures. The sponsors we have here gave us some of the best products we ever had to work with – seed, pesticides, equipment. Our extension agents and Dan Anco’s team have really good reputations, and they all came together.”

“Believe me, in the Department of Agriculture, we thoroughly enjoyed a year that we didn’t have to scramble,” added Hugh Weathers of Bowman, commissioner of the S.C. Department of Agriculture. “The industry showed its resilience and bounced back this past year. It’s really encouraging.”

Weathers also praised department staff members for their exceptional work while putting in long hours during peanut season.

In all, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the country’s consumption of peanuts increased by 3 percent in 2017 as well. However, the bumper crops in South Carolina and most other peanut-producing states resulted in a surplus in supply that will carry over into 2018.

Possible changes related to cotton in the Farm Bill being worked on in Congress could also put downward pressure on peanuts. As a result, peanut prices will probably drift downward this year. Experts therefore say that growers will need to make prudent decisions on planting in the upcoming season.

To assist farmers in making informed decisions, organizers of the Peanut Growers Meeting arranged for those attending to hear from experts from across the Southeast. Presenters and topics of discussion included:

• Maria Balota, extension specialist with Virginia Tech, presented research on top performing peanut varieties. She based the findings in her Peanut Variety and Quality Evaluation study on data collected at Suffolk, Virginia, Blackville, South Carolina and at Williamston, Rocky Mount and Council, North Carolina. Her findings indicated that Bailey II, Emery and Bailey are the peanut varieties that show the most promise. (Bailey II is a 2017 release. It is a Virginia-type cultivar with alternate branching pattern, intermediate runner growth and medium green foliage.) The detailed results of her study can be found at http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/author/b/balota-maria-res.html.

• Albert Culbreath, professor of plant pathology from the University of Georgia, talked about integrated management of tomato spotted leaf wilt and late leaf spot. He noted some decline in tomato spotted leaf wilt, but heavier than expected occurrences of late leaf spot. He gave details on peanut varieties that were more resistant to late leaf spot and discussed fungicides that could be used in combating the destructive diseases. He believes that “mixing and matching” various fungicides may be a key to controlling leaf spot in 2018.

• David Jordan, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Crop Science and extension specialist from North Carolina State University, discussed challenges in defining and minimizing risk in peanut production. With contract prices expected to dip in 2018, he suggested growers may want to seek ways to trim expenses this year. Possible options include cutting back on the overall acreage planted and focusing on the most productive land. Farmers may also want to reevaluate the varieties they plant, or consider reducing the seeding rate to four to five plants per foot of row.

• Cathy Johnson, marketing and communications associate with the National Peanut Board, discussed new U.S. efforts to increase demand for peanuts and peanut products. The board has played an important role in introducing new products such as peanut milk, which is now being marketed by the Elmhurst brand of upstate New York, she said. The organization has also invested $21 million to study peanut allergies in an effort to remove this health concern as a barrier to consumption.

• Marianne Copelan, marketing specialist with the S.C. Department of Agriculture, updated growers on upcoming promotions that are intended to boost consumption of peanuts produced here. These include maintaining a highly visible presence at special events and in the airports. The S.C. Peanut Board will also promote peanuts at athletic events where large quantities of peanuts are consumed, Copelan said.

• Bob Redding of The Redding Firm of Washington, D.C. spoke of the challenges involved in getting a new farm bill through Congress and discussed the importance of bipartisanship in achieving success.

The crowd also got to hear from experts from Clemson University, who reported information more directly applicable to growers in The T&D Region and around the state. These included:

• Nathan Smith, extension economist, shared his projections for the cost and returns outlook for 2018. He factored in costs including seed, fuel, chemicals and labor, calculating the cost of planting an acre of peanuts at about $680 on dry land. He referred growers to Clemson’s Agribusiness website at http://www.clemson.edu/extension/agribusiness/ for more detailed information on cost analysis.

• Dan Anco, extension peanut specialist, provided additional insight into leaf spot management. He discussed several fungicides that had produced good results when treating leaf spot on plants studied in clinical trials in the local area.

• Mike Marshall, extension weed specialist, gave an update on weed control in peanuts.

• Kendall Kirk, precision agriculture specialist, discussed precision agriculture in peanut research.

For more information on peanut production, visit the National Peanut Board at www.nationalpeanutboard.org.

Contact the writer: gwh903@yahoo.com.

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