County peanut acreage in decline

By Blake Downs: PNT Correspondent

Roosevelt County is losing significant peanut acreage to West Texas and the growth of the dairy industry, according to local farmers and agricultural officials.

The number of acres of peanuts planted in Roosevelt County has dropped from 17,000 in 2000 to 5,700 in 2007, according to New Mexico Department of Agriculture statistics.

“It looks like (the peanuts) are getting pushed to the side,” said Cliff Neece, a local peanut grower, referring to the slow drift of peanut farming away from the Portales Valley.

Richard Robbins, who owns of R&L Farm Service, said he too has watched the shift of the peanut industry from the Portales area over the recent years.

“It has cut way back in the last five to six years,” he said. “The price was lower a few years back.”

“It all comes back to the farmer,” said Robbins. “(Peanuts) will stay as long as they can compete with other crops.”

This year’s local harvest, which will begin this month, is looking good, though. Niece and Robbins expressed satisfaction with the current way the climate is holding up.

“The weather needs to stay just like it is right now,” Robbins said. “No rain or high wind to dry out the peanuts too quickly or too much. It’s the opposite of what the wheat farmers want right now.”

Robbins said potential yields look about average.

Neece expressed similar expectancy.

“The crop doesn’t look outstanding, but it’s going to be okay,” he said.

Determining the quality of the crop happens before the full harvest stage begins. Farmers must pull up and turn over the plant and its roots, which hold the peanuts, and let it sit out a few days.

“Around here we call it digging it up,” Robbins said. “Other places call it inverting.”

That is why it is a necessity to have a dry prelude.

“If it is not properly dried from digging, it takes 10 to 12 days at the combine,” he said.

Jimmie Shearer, president and CEO of Sunland Peanuts, said that the best condition for the crop to dry is warm weather.

“Once you turn the peanuts up, if you get rain on them and they are mature, they’ll turn black and that will affect the price the farmers receive for the peanuts,” he said.

The peanuts currently being taken in at Sunland are from further south and east of the Portales area, according to Shearer.

“A couple of weeks ago we had a few weeks of overcast, dreary weather, and this time of year we don’t need that,” he said. “The overcast weather with the high humidity can create disease problems.”

Levi Polich, operations manager at Borden Peanuts, which is also taking in crop from the south, said that the company has seen a good crop come in as well.

“We haven’t seen any poor quality stuff come in,” he said. “It’s a good crop — though not a bumper crop, just a good quality crop.”