The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

October 26, 2012

Amid bumper crop, families could get PB&J break

(Continued)

Peanuts are already considered a staple of the American diet, with the average U.S. consumer eating about 6 pounds of peanut butter and other peanut products each year, according to estimates from the American Peanut Council, an industry trade group. But peanut butter could become even more attractive as strong global demand, high prices for livestock feed and a huge sell-off of cattle and other animals in drought keep pushing up meat prices.

U.S. farmers are expected to produce more than 3 million tons of peanuts in 2012, according to figures released Oct. 11 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's a 66 percent increase over 2011, when growers produced more than 1.8 million tons.

Experts say several factors created the perfect conditions for a banner year. High peanut prices after last year's small crop encouraged farmers to plant more; USDA figures show acreage was up nearly 50 percent in 2012 compared with a year earlier. Farmers in the Southeast also got a break in the weather. Spring came early, allowing them to plant sooner. Temperatures were generally milder, and thunderstorms in August and September provided some much-needed relief in the weeks before farmers began the peanut harvest, which is currently in full swing.

Experts also say a peanut variety developed in recent years is boosting the record yields, in part because it tends to be resistant to disease.

"In this south Georgia area, we probably had as good a growing season as I can remember in a long time, and maybe in my 26 years (as executive director)," said Don Koehler, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission.

Georgia by far produces more peanuts than any other state, though the legumes are grown in sandy soil from Mississippi to Florida and north to the Carolinas.

Most farmers sell a portion of their crop at a set price before they even plant, so they'll get the higher prices in effect last year for some of their product. Koehler said that should offset any losses they'll take on peanuts sold at today's lower prices, although farmers who didn't sell much in advance may have a tougher time.

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