MURPHY TO MANTEO: North Carolina is a leader in peanuts

Leslie Briley, background, helps a customer at Bakers' Southern Tradition Peanuts in Roxobel, in Bertie County. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

March is National Peanut Month and farmers and consumers in North Carolina have much to celebrate. North Carolina is home to 1,400 peanut farms. What many don’t know about the peanut is that it’s actually not a “nut” but botanically classified as a legume, and they contain properties of both the bean/lentil and tree nuts.

The three leading counties for peanut production in North Carolina are Bertie, Martin and Pitt due to the fact that peanuts grow best in sandy, loamy soils.

From April to October, North Carolina farmers produce around 200,000 tons of peanuts on roughly 100,000 acres. The large kernel North Carolina peanuts are marketed mainly as a snack peanut in the shell product. Exports include Canada, Europe and China. While the longest-standing peanut farm in North Carolina is unknown, Poplar Grove Plantation in Wilmington claims to be the longest operating peanut farm in the United States.

Peanut farmers usually prefer to grow other crops as well — like corn, cotton or tobacco — but choose their best land for growing peanuts. The crop must be rotated on various plots of land throughout the years, and peanuts are an intensive crop that also costs quite a bit to produce.

In the United States, peanuts are the No. 1 snack consumed, accounting for 66 percent of the snack nut market.

According to U.S. Agriculture Department Statistician Sammy Neal, N.C. ranks fifth nationally after the 2018 crop was analyzed. North Carolina produced 386,000,000 pounds of peanuts in 2018, down from 479,000,000 pounds of production in 2017. Nationwide, the 2018 peanuts crop was estimated at 5.46 billion pounds, down 23 percent from 2017. Planted acreage for peanuts was estimated at its lowest level since 2014. Harvested area and production decreased in all States from last year. In Georgia, which leads the nation in peanut production, reported its lowest production since 2016.

The top peanut-producing states are Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Texas and North Carolina. With over 665,000 acres in production, Georgia has about as much peanut crop acreage as the rest of the top five combined.

Bob Sutter, CEO of the N.C. Peanut Growers Association, said that production of peanuts in North Carolina was down in 2018 due to an oversupply of peanuts in 2017 that resulted in lower prices combined with weather than hurt some crops. “The main reason we were down in planted acres was the fact that the price was lower,” said Sutton in an interview with the North State Journal. “We are slowly getting the supply and demand in balance.”

In N.C. total acres harvested went from 117,000 acres in 2017 to 98,000 in 2018. Average yields per acre also dropped from 4,100 pounds per acre to 3,900 pounds per acre — below the national average. Sutton said that yields varied across the growing region, which historically in in the northeaster N.C., based on weather