Peanut butter isn’t the only thing that is being spread in Alabama these days. The state’s peanut production area also is gradually spreading across the southwest area of the state. And, the way peanut specialists are talking, Alabama’s peanut production area is likely to continue to expand in a westward direction.Ten years ago, Alabama’s peanut production was largely confined to the southeast corner of the state. But in the late 1990s, changes in federal farm programs allowed farmers in other parts of the state to begin experimenting with the legume. “About seven years ago, we began to see some peanut production to the west, in the Baldwin County area,” said Randy Griggs, executive director of the Alabama Peanut Producers Association. “Five years ago, things really began to pick up, and now we have a booming peanut production area as far southwest as you can get in Alabama.”In addition to farm program changes, Griggs said the potential profitability of peanuts, when compared to other crops, also spurred the shift in peanut acreage. Regardless of the reason, Griggs said the migration of peanuts across Alabama has been positive for farmers, both in the Wiregrass and other parts of the state. “The state’s southeastern region, which has been long known as the peanut producing area of the state, was suffering from the lack of crop rotation,” Griggs explained. “The peanut producing growth has created a situation in the traditional peanut belt for better crop rotation and, in time, will increase the yields from those areas that have been suffering. The new production area also helps Alabama maintain its post as one of the major peanut producing states in the nation.” Auburn University peanut agronomist Dallas Hartzog agrees with Griggs.”Growers in the traditional peanut production area have reduced their acreage in order to improve their rotation, while west Alabama has expanded its peanut acreage, and that’s a boost for everyone,” Hartzog said.”Changes to the peanut program that occurred with the passing of the 2002 farm bill allowed for the expansion of the peanut industry in Alabama. Prior to 1998, peanuts were grown in 10 counties in southeast Alabama. Now, peanuts are in 25 counties, and you can expect another expansion of peanut producing counties in Alabama in 2005,” Hartzog added.The facts certainly back up those statements. According to figures from the Alabama Agricultural Statistics Service, peanut acreage in district 50, which includes Baldwin, Escambia, Mobile, Conecuh, Clarke, Washington, Choctaw, Monroe, Wilcox and Butler counties, increased from 13,850 acres in 2000 to 26,150 acres in 2001, an 89 percent increase. Then, from 2002 to 2003, that same area increased another 23,300 acres or 86 percent. Meanwhile, district 60, which includes the traditional peanut producing area, dropped significantly over the same period (2000-2003).Southwest Alabama farmers, however, aren’t the only ones jumping on the peanut bandwagon. Recently, more than 60 growers attended an informational meeting conducted by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in Macon County–of all places.Retired Extension Agent Dr. Jeff Clary said he’s amazed by how many farmers in central Alabama are interested in growing peanuts.”Not too long ago, we were all cotton producers,” he said. “Peanuts weren’t even considered, but because of the evolving needs of Alabama agriculture, they’re now an up-and-coming crop–something I wouldn’t have imagined 30 years ago as a young Extension agent,” he says.Griggs, who attended the meeting, stressed that peanuts, while often lucrative, also come with their share of risks–one reason why growers should carefully assess their marketing strategy.”The peanut market is changing–it’s more volatile than it used to be, and growers need to look at that and all of their market options,” Griggs said. “Nobody cares about your bottom line but you, so you need to constantly assess ways you can streamline your efficiency to enhance profitability.”Teresa Wilson is the information specialist for the Alabama Peanut Producers Association, a division of Alabama Farmers Federation.
Peanut Acreage Expanding Across Alabama