Freezing temps threaten last of Arkansas peanut harvest

When you’ve got a dry day in a harvest season like this, you go for it.

It was this common sense that kept Andy Vangilder, Extension peanut agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Extension plant pathologist Travis Faske and Craighead County Extension agent Chris Grimes working a field of research peanut plots — 48 in all — until past sundown Tuesday night.

“We finished after dark and loaded the peanuts into a truck afterwards,” Vangilder said Wednesday. “And I’m glad we did. We wouldn’t have been able to come back to it today.”arkansas weather cutline

Overnight rainfall or a wet day can impair the harvest of any row crop — but the same conditions can bring a peanut harvest to a dead stop, especially when freezing conditions are moving in.

Across the state, more than 91% of an estimated 32,000 acres of peanuts have been dug from the ground — the first step in the legume’s unusual harvest process. But of that 91%, only 55% had been harvested off the ground, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report issued Monday. Vangilder said growers had perhaps reached the two-thirds harvested mark as of Wednesday.

A late start

The same wet spring that led to widespread delayed and prevented planting in most Arkansas row crops set peanuts back in the calendar as well. And while both the digging and harvesting stages are ahead of numbers for this time last year, expected weekend rainfall and freezing temperatures expected early next week may make the final stretch especially difficult for peanut growers in the state.

“You can’t dig peanuts, when they’re still high-moisture and then have a freeze within a day or two,” Vangilder said. “That damages the peanut, sometimes beyond use. Right now, we’re recommending that growers with peanuts left in the field just leave them there until after the freeze.”

The National Weather Service is predicting several days of freezing temperatures in northern Arkansas over the next week, with lows dipping into the teens on Tuesday.

Growers will also likely have to contend with a scarcity of harvesting resources. While producers are enjoying the availability of a new buying point in Lee County, peanut acreage is also about 23% greater than in 2018.

“With peanuts, you can get a real backlog,” Vangilder said. “They’re higher moisture right now. Growers load them on peanut trucks with specialized beds that allow the peanuts to dry down. When they get down to a certain moisture level, the peanuts can be stored in a warehouse. With a higher moisture, the whole process just takes longer.

“That whole process is going to get better in Arkansas, because there’s another buying point coming online in Jonesboro. But there’s just going to be some growing pains.”

The University of Arkansas contributed this article.