Rains threaten harvest of bumper peanut crop

By Tony Parra: Freedom Newspapers

Up until this week, it was all good news for peanut farmers, but they’re not out of the woods yet.

Many peanut fields still need to be harvested and, until consecutive days of warm weather with no moisture come, the crop remains at risk.

Still, farmers and mill operators say that, so far, yields this year have been good.

“It’s been fast and furious,” said Leonard Stanton, a peanut-sheller for Hampton Farms mill. He said his shortest day during harvest season, so far, has been 12 hours. On an average day, he said, he works from 6:30 a.m. until 11 p.m. or even up to 1 a.m.

“It’s been a perfect harvest season. There were perfect growing conditions for everybody and that’s the reason for the higher yields. For the most part it’s been a good year for peanut farmers.”

Stanton said, on average, the harvest season begins in the last week of Sept. or the first week of Oct. This year, peanut farmers began harvesting in mid-Sept.

Stanton said everything went well until this week’s rain; peanuts cannot be harvested unless the ground is dry. Also, he said, moisture on the mature peanut crops can cause black mold, which devalue the peanuts. Stanton said wind, sun and dry weather are needed now for the harvest to resume.

Such ideal weather conditions were denied to peanut farmers last year.

“There was too much rain last year,” Stanton said. “We also had snow and ice. It was a horrible harvest. Harvest season didn’t end last year until Christmas time.”

He said warm weather helps to conclude the harvest season in the last week of October.

It is not only the peanut farmers who are praying for dry weather: Joining them are the owners and workers of peanut processing plants in the area.

Peanut processors in Roosevelt County, such as Glen’s Peanuts and Grain Inc., Hampton Farms and Sunland Peanuts Inc. process and distribute local peanuts all around the United States.

Meanwhile, a bumper crop has everyone in the peanut industry smiling.

“It’s good news for everybody,” said Jimmie Shearer, Sunland Inc. president, who explained that Sunland peanuts are distributed all over the world.

Sunland Inc. officials contract the produce of local peanut farmers. Shearer said half of the contracted peanuts are in.
“Without a good crop, we can’t have a good product,” Shearer added.

Farmers in the area also grow Valencia peanuts, which are sold in the shell and used for products such as peanut butter and candy.

Glen’s Peanuts and Grain Inc. workers process the peanuts fresh from the farms, for distribution to warehouses and farmers’ markets. Company owner Glen McAfee said he’s heard good news from the peanut farmers, who report yields of up to 2,800 pounds per acre, higher than average yields.

“It’s a good year,” McAfee said. “We’re seeing some of the highest yields that I’ve seen in previous years.” McAfee said he’s seen yields as low as 800 pounds per acre in recent years.

McAfee, himself a former peanut farmer, said his own farm had averaged 3,900 pounds per acre between 1974 and 1979.

He said brown spots on the hull signal that the peanuts are matured and ready for harvest. The farmers found these marks in mid-Sept., and harvested their peanut fields earlier than usual.