Published on 05/05/97

Stormy Weather Smooths Sailing for Georgia Farmers

As the sun peeked through the clouds after late-April storms swept through Georgia, farmers who rely on rainfall to water their crops could see a ray of hope.

"The rains couldn't have come at a better time for peanut growers," said John Beasley, an agronomist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. "We almost went from famine to feast, though."

Beasley said most of the peanut belt got up to 4 inches of rain during the last full week of April. That was enough to moisten the top two to three inches of soil -- near-perfect planting conditions.

"That's exactly what we needed to get farmers into their fields and planting peanuts," he said.

Once the soil has enough moisture to make the seed germinate and break the surface, Beasley said the young plants can grow for several weeks without more rain without jeopardizing the final yield.

"This latest rainfall during the weekend of April 26-28 is perfect," he said. "As fields dry out and farmers can plant, it puts them in the field during the optimal planting time to minimize the risk of tomato spotted wilt." This killer virus can wipe out half a peanut crop.

Planting at the perfect time has another advantage, too.

"Contract prices for both quota and additional peanuts have increased in recent weeks," said Don Shurley, an extension economist. "The best prices I've seen so far this year are $650/ton for quota and $350/ton for additionals."

Shurley said dry, cooler weather earlier in April may have changed some farmers' planting decisions.

"The corn crop is mostly planted," he said. "Dry conditions prior to last weekend may switch acreage to soybeans or cotton. Now that moisture has returned, better contracts may attract more peanut acreage as well."

For farmers with corn already in the field, the rains could make them miss potentially serious insect problems.

The mild winter and dry spring made insects worse in corn this year, and "these rains will mask some of their damage," said extension entomologist Randy Hudson.

Hudson tells farmers to check their fields even closer. "Research shows that if a farmer finds insects in his fields at this time, he could lose significant yield," he said.

Extension economist George Shumaker said for many farmers, soybeans are an attractive crop. "They can use the same equipment in corn and soybeans," he said. "And the profitability potential is good.

"But some land could go into cotton, too," he said. "This latest rain should add some enthusiasm to the markets that most thought had peaked."

What do the late-April rains mean to consumers? If anything, the experts say it will keep prices about the same.

Shurley calls peanut situation as stable as he's ever seen it. "Supply and demand are fairly equal right now," he said. "That should keep prices for peanut products about the same at the grocery store."

Georgia farmers don't raise enough corn or soybeans to significantly affect national markets, Shumaker said. These two crops are used mainly as livestock feeds. Level corn and soybean prices can help keep meat prices level, too.

In all, peanuts, corn, cotton and soybeans directly add $1.36 billion to Georgia's economy.