Most of us know the basics of how peanuts grow, but unless you’ve been able to spend a good amount of time with peanut growers across the U.S., you may not know much about the different challenges and practices growers face throughout the Peanut Belt. In this episode of the Peanut Podcast, we spoke to peanut growers in each region to learn what makes that area unique. To listen to the full episode, click here.
The Southeast region consists of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Lonnie Gilbert is a third-generation farmer from Marianna, Florida, that grows runner peanuts. To prepare for peanut season, farmers go through a process called moldboarding or breaking the land. This is when farmers use a special type of plow that cuts, lifts and turns the soil so it’s at least partly upside down. This improves soil drainage and creates a good seedbed for planting. Farmers start planting sometime between mid-April and late-May and that the major pests they worry about in his area are thrips and nematodes. What he looks forward to most though, is the possibility of irrigating more of their land since it is primarily dry.
"We are trying to get enrolled in some programs, such as cost sharing and the EQIP program to help us where we can utilize irrigation,” Lonnie said. “But for the most part, the majority of our land is all dry land and we really only utilize irrigation when we plant vegetables.”
The Virginia-Carolinas region consists of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. We spoke with NPB Board member Neal Baxley in Marion County, South Carolina. According to Neal, before planting runners and Virginias, they till the soil and make raised beds to plant the peanuts in. They aim to plant around the end of April and continue throughout May. After planting, Neal likes to apply a land plaster to help give the peanuts the calcium they need in the pegging zone.
On average, Neal says they get around 44 inches of rain each year. Due to this wet, humid climate, they mainly deal with leafspot. “Leaf spot really wasn’t that bad of a problem in our area until we started getting these hurricanes in 2015,” Neal said. “We went a long time without any major weather events until we had a bad flood in ’15, Hurricane Matthew in ’16 and Florence in ’18.” Hurricane season especially affects farmers in this area since the worst part of it takes place around peanut harvest time.
Another quirk is that it’s not uncommon to have multiple different soil types in one field, which means that small and irregular sized and shaped fields are common. Neal says that they’ll plant multiple different crops in the same field due to the different soil types. So, you may have an area in the peanut field where soybeans and corn are planted because peanuts don’t grow well in that soil.
Normally, Texas is included with the Southwest region. We spoke to Mason Becker, an NPB alternate who lives about 40 miles southwest of Lubbock. Mason grows all four types of peanuts, as well as organic. Mason starts planting his Virginias around the last week of April, then will plant the rest according to how fast they grow. He’ll start harvesting his Valencias in the middle of September but waits until October 10 rolls around to harvest the rest.
One positive about growing organic peanuts in Texas is that while it is still extremely labor-intensive work, they don’t have quite the weed pressure as in other regions. According to Mason, since it’s so much drier in West Texas, he doesn’t have to worry about weeds on the same level as a farmer from Georgia might. They do still have to worry about diseases in general though. Mason says most of the fungicide use out there is preventative. In the past, he’s treated his peanuts for things like pod rot, pythium and leaf spot. As for pests, they have an on-going feud with sandhill cranes. Mason says that once they turn the peanuts over, sandhill cranes go out there and eat and trample the peanuts.
The soil in West Texas is classified as a sandy loam. Mason says, “if you’ve ever heard of red dirt country music, that’s this area and up into the panhandle.” The clay in their soil allows for some moisture to be held in it. This and irrigation are crucial for those dry stretches in Texas. Mason says they get around 16 inches of rain per year, stay around 10% or less humidity and see 100-degree temperatures during the summer. “One thing we have to be cognizant of is during pegging the soil gets so hot,” Mason said. “A lot of times those pegs when they go down and hit the hot ground they’ll just die. So, we have to be really careful and keep our canopy humidity to try to allow for those pegs to set in.”
The rest of the Southwest region consists of Oklahoma, Missouri, New Mexico and Arkansas. Austin White is a fifth-generation farmer who grows Virginia peanuts in Southwest, Oklahoma, along the Red River. Austin says before planting peanuts they either moldboard or harvest the previous year’s wheat then strip till it and put peanuts in. They try to plant the first week of May and then will start fungicide spraying around July 4. Then late-September into October is harvest time for them. According to Austin, they are only able to grow peanuts on irrigated land.
The biggest pests for Austin are hogs and deer. The first week after planting, they go out with spotlights or thermals to try to deter hogs from eating entire rows of seeds. Then, once they turn the peanuts over, deer will come in and pick all the peanuts off the vines until there is nothing left. “We have just thousands of deer along the Red River, and they just come and go and pick them clean if we’re not careful,” Austin said. “We have some hills along the river, and you know that side of the field will be 20% to 30% less because of the deer picking off the peanuts.”
One of the biggest, region-specific challenges is being isolated from big equipment dealers. This means that preseason prepping is even more important. If something breaks down midseason, it could take two weeks before you’re back up and running. “A couple of years ago, a shaft messed up and we had to wait 10-12 days for it to come out of Georgia because that’s just where you get it.”
We also spoke with Bennie Branch, who is president of Kelly Manufacturing Company. According to Bennie, farmers in different regions may have to use different equipment, especially when it comes to harvesting. “In the peanut inverter line, we have to main styles, a rigid inverter and a flex peanut inverter,” Bennie said. “In the rigid inverter, all six rows are tied together on a common toolbar, so they all dig at the same level. And on a flex inverter, each two row section floats independently of that front tool bar; and this actually started over in Alabama, where it’s very common for farmers to have rows that are not parallel to the terraces. So, they end up going over terraces at angles.”
Learn more about production across the regions by listening to the full episode of The Peanut Podcast.