Published on 06/10/96

Spring Rain Good for Peanuts, Too Late for Cattle

As devastating drought drags on in the Southwest, Georgia farmers are singing in the rain.

"We got rain just in time," said John Beasley, a peanut specialist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

"That early dry spell didn't hurt us too bad," he said. "What happens in the next 90 days, though, will have a huge impact on the yield and quality of peanuts we'll have."

Most early-planted peanuts hit the ground in mid-April. The dry weather came during the early growth stages, when peanut plants need little water to grow.

"Had the drought gone on another 10 to 14 days, we would have begun to see the effect," Beasley said.

The Southwest drought hasn't hit the peanut crop yet.

"In Texas, they're still planting their peanut crop," Beasley said. "Because Texas has about five different peanut-producing areas, whether the price of peanuts is affected really depends on what area is affected most.

"Until we get later in the season," he said, "we won't see any impact. If the rains here had come a few weeks later, we would have seen some movement in the price already, because we would have seen some negative effect on the plants."

The second round of Georgia's peanut planting was in May, so those plants were very small during the dry weather and weren't affected.

"As we enter June," Beasley said, "the peanuts planted in April will need more water. We need consistent rainfall through the next three months to keep the soil moist so the nuts will develop."

While peanut farmers are rejoicing, many livestock farmers are still waiting for their showers of blessings.

Droughts in Texas and Oklahoma and grain prices on the roof have helped send Georgia feeder calf prices into the basement.

"The dry weather affected livestock more than anything," said Bill Givan, an Extension Service economist. "They pretty well have run out of pasture and are fast running out of hay. They can't feed corn -- it's too expensive. So they're putting a lot of cattle on the market."

With corn prices at top dollar, feeding it to animals is a losing deal.

"Broiler contractors and feed lots are cutting back on the number of animals they put in," Givan said. "The only way they can combat it is to bid lower on feeder calves, which is what we grow here."

The price of feeder calves dipped to less than half of what they were two years ago.

"That's like giving them away," Givan said.

Rain isn't the only problem with the corn prices, though.

"We didn't have a really good year last year for corn production," Givan said. "But a worldwide increase in grain demand, especially in the Far East, is keeping prices high."

Everyone is pointing a finger at China.

"They're importing grain now, where they used to be exporters," Givan said. "They are becoming meat-eaters, and you have to feed corn for good meat."

Givan said the Chinese economy is one of the fastest-growing in the world, marking yearly increases at 10 percent compared to the U.S. annual growth of 2 percent to 3 percent.

"They also have about one-sixth of the world's population," Givan said. "That's a lot of grain."

With that kind of demand, even rain may not lower grain prices.

"Dwindling grain stocks keep pushing the price of corn up," Givan said. "Georgia is grain-deficient, so we bring corn in from the Midwest at market price plus shipping prices.

"If you have some corn in storage, well, you're probably grinning all the way to the bank," he said.

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.