Virginia's nearly $70 million annual peanut crop has been endangered by several weeks of unusually heavy rainfall that drenched, flooded and washed out peanut fields in some southeastern areas of the state, according to agricultural specialists.
"I could show you places where you look at the field and it looks like it's a pond out there," Russell C. Schools, executive secretary of the Virginia Peanut Growers Association, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
"It varies across the peanut belt from peanuts looking fair to peanuts looking quite bad. We have some [fields] in the eastern part of the peanut belt that haven't been planted."
Peanut specialists estimated yesterday that the state's crop may fall 15-to-20 percent short of normal peanut production because of the rains, which were especially heavy in May. The expected shortage already has led to some speculation about possible increases in peanut prices later this year. Current prices are 21 cents a pound, officials said.
Virginia is the nation's fifth largest peanut producer, ranking behind Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas, according to agriculture officials. Over 300 million pounds of peanuts are grown in more than 100,000 acres in southeastern Virginia, mainly in Southampton and Isle of Wight counties and Suffolk near the North Carolina border.
Allen H. Allison, an agronomist and peanut specialist for the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Extension Service, said yesterday that only about 68 percent of Virginia's crop has been planted by May 20, the normal end of the peanut planting season. Rains in May were measured at up to three times normal rainfall in some parts of southwestern Virginia, officials said. Peanut planting was delayed because farm tractors could not maneuver in muddy fields.
With a significant portion of Virginia's peanut crop being planted later than normally, farm officials said the timing of the first autumn frost will become a key factor. An early frost would be a hazard for peanuts, which take about five months to grow.
Although peanuts were described as most severely affected by the heavy rainfall, the rain also had some impact on other Virginia crops, including soybeans, corn and hay, agriculture officials said.
"I'm about three weeks behind in planting soybeans because it rains too much and it's just too wet," Robert B. Delano, president of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said last week.He owns a farm near the town of Warsaw in Richmond County on the Northern Neck. Other soybean growers also have been delayed by the rains, Delano said. Officials say it is uncertain whether these delays will result in reduced yields.
For a time, Virginia's tobacco crop also appeared threatened by a rare fungus disease known as blue mold, which thrives in humid weather. But this danger has now disappeared, according to James L. Jones, a VPI tobacco specialist. "We could have had it," Jones noted in a telephone interview. "Things were close."