U.S. peanut plantings to drop 27 percent after salmonella scare

The dusty boots of Alabama farmer Sonny Corcoran stands in a peanut field in Twin Springs, Alabama, on June 27, 2000. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. farmers may cut peanut plantings by 27 percent this year after buyers slashed contracts following a recent food poisoning scare linked to peanut products, the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Tuesday.

Growers intend to plant 1.12 million acres of peanuts in 2009, down from a record 1.534 million in 2008, the USDA said.

“Concerns about future demand as a result of the salmonella outbreak have limited the number of contracts being offered to producers for the upcoming season,” the USDA said.

A salmonella outbreak traced to peanut products has led to as many as 700 illnesses and prompted the recall of more than 3,400 products ranging from ice cream to crackers, the largest food recall in U.S. history.

The outbreak renewed calls for reform of the U.S. food safety system by lawmakers in Congress, the Obama administration and consumer groups.

Growers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina intend to plant 855,000 acres in 2009, compared with 1.13 million acres planted in 2008, the USDA said. In Georgia, the largest peanut-producing State, planted acreage is expected to decline 28 percent from last year.

Growers in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas intend to plant 182,000 acres, down 36 percent from the previous year, the USDA said.

Plantings in the Virginia-North Carolina region are expected to total 87,000 acres, down 29 percent from 2008. Acreage in Virginia is expected to decline 50 percent from 2008, the USDA said.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton