BEIJING – Peanut farmers in China are left with empty shells as extreme weather wreaks havoc on harvests in the world’s most populous nation.

Nutless pods are a consequence of alternating drought and excessive rains during key planting and growth periods.

That is bad news for China, the world’s biggest grower, after farmers already shrunk the planting acreage.

The empty shells are one factor that could result in peanut output tumbling as much as 30 per cent this season, according to analysts.

“I’ve never encountered anything like this in previous years,” said Song, a peanut trader in Shandong province, where a delayed harvest has just begun.

The plight of farmers can be seen in a video of peanut fields ravaged by drought that made its rounds on social media.

Posted by “Brother Peanut” in Shandong three months ago, when parts of China were already struggling with inadequate rainfall, it shows a large spread of land that used to be planted with peanuts, now mostly barren and dotted with an abnormally small crop.

Peanuts have become the latest casualty as extreme weather roils Chinese agricultural markets during the crucial harvest period.

Sichuan suffered its worst drought in 60 years as searing temperatures baked central and south-western provinces, while flooding inundated the north-east.

Other crops have seen similar damage across the globe this summer, exacerbating the food inflation that has been gripping the world.

Scorching heat shrivelled the corn crop in the United States, leaving some stalks with no ears at all. Sunflowers are withering in Europe, the land of van Gogh, thanks to a once-in-a-generation drought.

The humble peanut, the fourth-largest oilseed crop in the world, is generally resistant to drought. But the legume needs calcium to grow. If the ground is too severely dry or flooded, it will cause a loss of calcium, making it difficult for the plant’s roots to absorb enough. The result: a shell with no nut.

“High temperature and drought, or too much moisture in the soil, can both lead to empty peanuts,” said Huatai Futures analyst Jiang Ying, who estimates a 20 per cent to 30 per cent fall in China’s overall peanut output this season.