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Georgia is the number-one peanut-producing state in the country, accounting for approximately 49 percent of the crop's national acreage and production. In 2012 Georgia farmers harvested 730,000 acres of peanuts, the official state crop, for a yield of 3.3 billion pounds. The state's most famous peanut farmer, U.S. president Jimmy Carter, and his family raised the crop for decades in Sumter County.
The peanut (Arachis hypogaea L.) is native to South America and is believed to have originated in the areas of Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia. In its native state it is a tropical, perennial plant. Brought to the South by explorers from South America via Africa, the peanut is thought to have been grown in Georgia about a decade before the Civil War (1861-65). Despite its name, the peanut is not a true nut but a member of the legume family. The term peanut is used primarily in the United States and Australia. Elsewhere around the world, it is usually referred to as a groundnut.
The sandy soils and subtropical climate of Georgia are ideal for producing large yields of high-quality peanuts. Peanut production in Georgia is concentrated in the Coastal Plain, the area south of the fall line, which runs from Columbus through Macon to Augusta. Only a few counties in the southern half of the state, those in the southeastern corner near the Atlantic coast and the Okefenokee Swamp, do not grow peanuts.
Georgia peanuts require a long growing season of at least 150 days of warm weather. They also require about twenty-two inches of water during the growing season.
Peanut acreage in Georgia has varied greatly over the years. During and immediately following World War II (1941-45), farmers were encouraged to plant as many acres of peanuts as possible for oil production to support the war effort. During that time peanut acreage in Georgia exceeded 1 million acres.
Acreage in Georgia climbed steadily during the 1980s and early 1990s, peaking at 900,000 acres in 1991. Because of lower yields from poor rotation conditions, farmers began reducing peanut acreage to improve yield potential. In the late 1990s and early 2000s acreage dropped into the 500,000 to 550,000 range. The quota program was dropped in the federal 2002 Farm Act, and a market loan program for the peanut was established. This program created the potential for peanut production in areas that had not historically grown peanuts because of previous restrictions. As a result, peanut acreage climbed to 620,000 acres in 2004 and 755,000 acres in 2005.
Peanuts corn or soybeans, and pesticides are a major production cost.
All segments of the peanut industry, including grower, buyer, sheller, broker, manufacturer, and such allied industries as storage and transportation, are represented in Georgia. Numerous other industries support the peanut industry in the state, including equipment manufacturers, banking and other financial industries, and the agricultural chemical and fertilizer industries.
Research University of Georgia (UGA) and with the U.S. Department of Agriculture based in Tifton. Research in Georgia has resulted in dramatically improved yield potential and quality. Some of the state's critical advancements include improved varieties, better harvest techniques, water management through irrigation, improved pest management, and such new technologies as yield monitors, variable rate application of fertilizers, and irrigation water. Research by UGA food scientists has improved the quality, nutrition, and marketability of peanuts. Research in the areas of policy and marketing have given peanut producers around the country better opportunities for competing in a global market.
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