Work Continues On Organic Production

Good yields can be achieved, but the lack of a certified organic sheller is a road block for the Southeast.

With careful timing at planting and frequent mechanical cultivation during production, growing organic peanuts throughout the Southeast, although a challenge, is no longer impossible.

Six years of on-farm research and university experiment station trials in Georgia and the Carolinas, funded by Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research And Education (SARE) grants, has shown that farmers can grow organic peanuts throughout areas of the Southeast and yield a respectable 3,000 pounds per acre or more.

However, it takes some careful planning and intensive production practices to make it work, says Mark Boudreau, a public service assistant with the University of Georgia Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and one of the project leaders.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 2.10.49 PMSoutheast Should Get In The Game
“Peanuts are practically synonymous with the Southeast. Over 80 percent of the peanut production comes from the region, but when it comes to organic, nearly all of the production is in Texas and New Mexico,” Boudreau says. “There is a huge demand for organic peanuts. There is no reason why the Southeast can’t get in the game.”

Boudreau says that growing organic peanuts in the Southeast poses two challenges: One is controlling insects, diseases and weeds during production; the other is the lack of infrastructure in the region to shell organic peanuts and sell on a large scale to processors.

Through Southern SARE Research And Education Grants, a team of researchers and farmers in Georgia and the Carolinas conducted on-farm trials and controlled experiments at university research stations to develop a system for organic peanut production, focusing on pest management and weed control.

What they found was that insects could be controlled through irrigation, with thrips requiring foliar sprays of an organic insecticide, spinosad, when needed. Post-establishment diseases could be managed with resistant varieties and some organic sprays if necessary.

Weed Pressure Can Be Intense
“That was the easy part,” Boudreau says. “The overwhelming limitation was weed control. When the crops failed, it was generally because of weeds.

“One way to overcome some weed pressure is to get a good stand of organic peanuts quickly established long before weeds even show up.

“A farmer needs to know his or her farming system, the land and the weather,” Boudreau says. “The saying goes that if you see a weed, then it’s already too late.”

Ultimately, the project investigators recommended intensive mechanical cultivation as the key to controlling weeds in organic peanut fields.

“Particularly, one piece of equipment seems to do the trick: A flex tine cultivator,” Boudreau says. “Use it before the peanuts emerge and every few days afterward for about three weeks or until the canopy closes.”

Boudreau says that the flex tine cultivator, when set at the right speed and right tine height, scratches the soil surface exposing weed seeds, and thereby drying them out.

The project, “Exploiting the Organic Peanut Market: Design of Production Systems for the Southeast,” wrapped up this year. Project investigators plan to develop an organic peanut production guide as a result of their findings.

Sheller Still Needed
With the how-to established, the next challenge for organic peanut producers is finding places in the Southeast to sell their crop, Boudreau says.

“The biggest road block to organic peanut production is the lack of certified organic shellers,” Boudreau says. “But it’s inevitable that there will be an organic peanut industry in the Southeast. All it’s going to take is one certified organic sheller to turn the tides.” PG

Article by Candace Pollack, public relations coordinator for the Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. For more information, visit SARE’s Web site at www.sare.org.