Peanuts are a food ingredient from planting until consumption. Because of this, producers should always keep food safety in mind when getting this edible crop from the ground and to the next link in the processing chain. Planting is a good time to be reminded of some good agricultural practices producers should follow to help supply a safe, quality crop.
Document, document, document. This should be the mantra of producers because, essentially, if it is not documented, it is not done. Adequate documentation not only benefits the individual grower in their operation, but also provides key elements to the basic food safety system. Important documentation records include, but are not limited to: detail of prior farm ownership and cropping history; information regarding variety and plant date; crop management activities during the growing season; pesticide application information; worker training; fertilizer and soil amendment use history; pest reports from scouts or consultants; equipment maintenance and sanitation schedules.
Employees that fully understand their roles and responsibilities within the operation are critically important to the production of safe, high-quality peanuts. Many local and state agencies offer training programs for pesticide application and worker safety. Employee training should include: pesticide application and worker safety; proper equipment calibration, maintenance and operation; proper equipment sanitation.
Land Selection And Rotation
Site selection and crop rotation serve as the foundation for the peanut production system. Crop rotations of three years or longer provide an opportunity to improve peanut yield and quality by reducing diseases, foreign material and chemical residue. Under longer rotations, organic matter content often increases and overall soil quality is usually improved. Weed control efficiency is enhanced because many hard to-control weeds in peanuts can be effectively controlled in rotation crops.
Fertilizer And Soil Amendments
Peanuts respond better to residual soil fertility than direct fertilizer applications. For this reason, the fertility program for the preceding crop is extremely important. Growers have several options available when deciding what type of fertilizer to apply to the rotation crop or directly to the peanut crop. With recent higher costs associated with inorganic fertilizers, many growers use organic fertilizers due to their lower costs. The specific type and amount of fertilizer applied to the preceding crop will be dictated by the needs of the crop based on yield goals, the amount of available nutrients in the soil, and applied according to soil test. Some considerations regarding fertilizer usage include: making sure the material does not contain heavy metal residues; avoiding applications of large quantities of manure to soils with low existing microbial activity; planting where runoff could carry manure into a peanut field.
To ensure maximum yield potential, many growers provide supplemental irrigation to the peanut crop. The source of this irrigation is typically underground aquifers, but some growers use surface water. Since the edible portion of the crop is below ground and not directly exposed to overhead irrigation, and the majority of the irrigation water used is from deep, underground aquifers, the associated microbial food safety risk should be relatively low. However, to ensure that microbial food safety risk associated with irrigation water remains low, review the location of all sources of irrigation water, both wells and surface. Protect groundwater from chemical contamination by mixing and loading pesticides away from wells or other water sources.
Animal Exclusion And Pest Control
All animals, both wild and domestic, are potential sources of food contamination. Feces are usually considered the primary source of pathogenic organisms from animals, but since animals come in contact with soil, manure and water, they can easily pick up other contaminants from these sources. Therefore, the exclusion of animals from peanut fields is an important component of the growers overall sanitation program. However, practical consideration should be given that domestic and farm animals will be much easier to control than wild animals. Also, keep the time from digging to combining as short as possible, and keep areas where harvest equipment is stored mowed and free of trash and other debris and away from old equipment and outbuildings that could provide nesting and harbor for rodents, insects and birds.
Many disease, insect and weed pests can significantly reduce yield and quality of peanuts. Growers often utilize a combination of management practices, also known as integrated pest management, to control these. Integrated pest management (IPM) uses combinations of pesticides, cultural practices, biological control and crop management practices. The goal of IPM is to use a combination of pest control methods to reduce input costs, unnecessary pesticide use, maintain food safety and help growers profitably attain maximum yields. The use of Peanut Rx can also help producers assess their risk level for a field and determine if practices are such that the producer could reduce the amount of fungicide applications for that field. Of particular importance is controlling insects and diseases that can damage pegs and pods. Pod damage can reduce yield and quality and predispose peanuts to invasion by fungi that can result in aflatoxin contamination or possible contamination by other microorganisms that create a food safety risk. Always apply pesticides only as directed according to the label and only to crops at rates and intervals specifically outlined by the label. Thorough training and documentation of personnel responsible for using and applying pesticides is important.
The equipment used during harvest is complex and performs many functions during the process. The complexity of the equipment requires extensive maintenance and sanitation prior to harvest. This practice helps the grower ensure that a minimum amount of foreign material and debris enters the shelling plant from the field and microbial contamination is kept to a minimum as well. Some guidelines to consider when preparing your equipment for harvest include: carefully inspecting equipment for mechanical problems that could cause metal to end up in the farmer-stock peanuts; properly cleaning equipment and trailers to remove old peanut crop debris, rodents, insects and bird nests that may be present and to prevent cross contamination from other crops such as corn or pecans. If water is used to clean equipment, allow for adequate drying time, and remember to document any maintenance and sanitation work.