Texas peanut producers faced tough 2020 season

Texas peanut producers experienced a difficult 2020 growing season due to drought, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Emi Kimura, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension state peanut specialist, Vernon, said dry weather from April to September led to below-average yields as peanut producers near the end of harvest.

“Harvest is almost done in most areas because there’s not been much rain to slow us down like in 2019,” she said. “There’s not much positive news beyond that on the production side.”

Overall, Texas peanut producers planted 190,000 acres compared to 165,000 acres in 2019, Kimura said. Harvested acres were estimated to be 180,000 compared to 160,000 in 2019, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service November report.

Despite planted acres being up more than 13%, yields on those acres were down 11.5%, according to the report. Peanut producers netted 2,700 pounds of peanuts per acre on average compared to 3,050 pounds per acre last year. 

Peanut producer: ‘not a single drop of rain’

Kimura said the No. 1 cause for reduced yields was the lack of moisture despite irrigation efforts.

“Some producers in West Texas said they experienced worse drought conditions than in 2011,” she said. “One producer said he’d never had a season without a single drop of rain until this year.”

Kimura said the weather station for Seminole showed 1.9 inches of rain for April through September. Last year, the same weather station reported 13.6 inches of rainfall during the same period.

“I count April because any rains leading up to May planting typically set up the crop for good establishment,” she said. “Rains in July and August are very critical for the crop’s development, and less than 2 inches over the season was not enough.”

Kimura said rain measurements at the weather station in Memphis, which is a good indicator for High Plains peanut fields, were not as bad but still 7 inches below last year. Stephenville and South Texas fields also received below-normal rainfall amounts on average.

The silver lining in a lack of moisture was below-average pest and disease pressure, Kimura said. There were some cases of leaf spot in South Texas, but nothing major to report across the state.

More bad news

Quality grades will potentially decline for some growers due to a freeze event in late October, she said. Temperatures dropped from 80 degrees to 25 degrees on Oct. 26-27.

The extreme dip in temperatures during harvest caught some producers off guard and added to an already tough season, she said. Freezing temperatures did not drop soil temperatures low enough to cause significant damage to peanuts still in the ground, but some producers had already dug peanuts that were exposed and damaged.

Kimura said the impact on exposed peanuts depended on how much moisture was in the kernel during the freeze, but even pods dry enough likely sustained some damage. One producer reported digging 5,000 acres of peanuts before the looming freeze was apparent.

“Once they dig, the peanuts need to dry down for a week,” she said. “Some producers did not learn about the freeze soon enough or were caught by surprise. But those who didn’t dig likely didn’t sustain as much damage as those who dug before the freeze.”

Kimura said some peanut producers around the state performed well. They received decent rains, kept pest and disease pressure in check and perfectly timed harvest to avoid freeze damage.

But the average per-acre yields mean many producers endured a very difficult growing season, she said.

“Conditions were crazy this year,” she said. “It was really difficult to talk to peanut producers in West Texas because they were depressed by the drought on top of everything else going on. As specialists, we make recommendations and give options that can improve a grower’s outcome, but there’s not much we can do about zero rainfall.”

Prices low, but demand increased

Francisco Abello, AgriLife Extension economist, Vernon, had a little good news for Texas peanut producers but said prices were low.

U.S. peanut acres increased 17%, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Those acres were producing high yields on average, which translates into a 21% higher production forecast compared to 2019.

But domestic and export demand has also increased dramatically, he said. Demand for peanut butter and candy during the COVID-19 pandemic drove domestic increases, and exports increased 36% compared to last year as China ramped up purchase orders.

Low peanut prices – $424 per ton for runners; $428 per ton for Virginia peanuts, for example – will likely make them eligible for government assistance, he said. The breakeven price, or the price that would cover input costs, as well as equipment depreciation and other expenses to produce a ton of peanuts, is $430 on average, according to AgriLife Extension economist calculations.

USDA Price Loss Coverage, PLC, payments could benefit farmers who participated in the 2020-2021 program, he said.

“That’s important for a farmer’s gross margin,” he said. “But the final estimated payment will depend on the actual PLC-based yield from the individual farm, and the final reference price for the 2020-21 season.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

Panhandle

Northern and central parts of the Panhandle reported short to adequate topsoil and subsoil moisture. Southern areas reported short to very short soil moisture levels. Sorghum harvest continued, and some producers neared completion. Winter wheat was in poor to good condition. Cotton fields were poor to fair. Producers continued to harvest cotton after recent weather events. Cotton yields were average to below average. Corn harvest completed, and some hay fields were still being cut and baled. Winter wheat was being planted and irrigated behind the cotton harvest. Irrigated wheat looked excellent, but dryland acres were struggling.

Rolling plains

Weather conditions were warm and windy. Areas needed significant rains and runoff to fill water tanks and lakes. Wheat producers were finishing wheat planting, and fields were starting to emerge. Cotton was in fair to good condition as harvest continued. Cattle producers continued to provide supplemental feed in areas with limited grazing. 

South plains

Dry conditions continued across the district. Farmers were busy stripping cotton. Most farmers expected to finish harvesting cotton before Thanksgiving. Many producers finished cotton harvest and began planting winter wheat. Local cotton gins expected to complete ginning by mid- to late-December. Very little dryland winter wheat had emerged due to the lack of moisture. Local cattle producers were relying heavily on hay and supplemental feeding.

North

Topsoil moisture throughout the district was adequate to short. Some area soils were dried out from lack of moisture. Temperatures were warmer with daytime highs in the mid- to upper-70s and nighttime temperatures in the mid-30s. One day reached above 80 degrees. Most hay was cut, baled and out of the field. Winter forage crops needed a good soaking rain. Winter wheat was emerging and looked good in some areas. Livestock were in good condition. Spring-born calves were being weaned. Feral hogs continued to be very active.

West central

Dry conditions caused wheat, oats and pastures to be poor to very poor. The district needed moisture. Cotton was mostly harvested, but yields were below average due to dry conditions. Winter wheat plantings continued and were almost complete. Many farmers and ranchers were feeding livestock with hay and protein earlier than normal. Cattle markets were steady, and the goat market was up. Stock tanks were still in good condition.

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