Exploiting the organic peanut market: refining production systems for the Southeast

Final Report for LS08-203

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $175,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Mark Boudreau
Hebert Green Agroecology, Inc.
Dr. Mark Boudreau
Hebert Green Agroecology
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Project Information


A team of researchers and farmers in Georgia and the Carolinas conducted three years of controlled experiments and on-farm trials to develop a system for organic peanut production in the Southeast, focusing on stand establishment and weed control. Some organic seed treatments may be effective at improving stands, but the key to success is proper timing of planting with dense seeding rates and readiness to replant. Frequent mechanical cultivation with a flex tine cultivator before is essential and hand weeding may still be required. However, these techniques coupled with disease-resistant cultivars and judicious irrigation, produce yields > 3,000 lbs/a.

Project Objectives:

1. Improve stand establishment so that a dense, closed canopy is achieved as rapidly as possible under organic conditions. Plant pathologists and agronomists on the team will use replicated, controlled trials under growth chamber, greenhouse, and field conditions, factorial experiments will be conducted to determine ideal planting conditions and timing for cultivars used in organic production, efficacy of organic seed treatments and other methods to minimize seed rot and damping off, and conditions that ensure rapid early growth and canopy closure. Those treatments that are least effective will be discarded, and those most effective in the field will be integrated into on-farm trials. These trials will be highly informed by our previous experience with cooperating farmers. How these practices integrate with other operations such as tillage, irrigation, and weed management will be a priority of these studies. 2. Develop a successful organic weed management strategy for peanuts. Weed scientists and agronomists on the team will build on our earlier work to assess all acceptable organic techniques for weed management, emphasizing those that have been most successful and those that continue to show promise. These include proper seedbed preparation, optimal planting time and moisture conditions, frequent mechanical cultivation with adaptable equipment (e.g. flex-tine cultivator), and limited, but perhaps essential, use of organic herbicides and hand-weeding. Hydro-mulch technology will be refined and evaluated again. The most effective techniques will continue to be incorporated into on-farm trials with intensive participation of the research team. Again, our experience with on-farm trials until now will weigh heavily on specific treatments chosen. 3. Create an overall viable production system for organic peanuts by integrating earlier work with results of Objectives 1 & 2 in on-farm trials, this time including economic and marketing components. Involvement of team scientists during stand establishment and until canopy closure, when peanuts are most vulnerable, will be more intensive. In addition, we propose to: (a) work closely with new projects encouraging organic peanut production; (b) assess cost/revenue data and develop a decision-making tool for growers considering organic peanuts which integrates an economic model; and (c) interact with processors to address the current limitation of organic handling, and, if necessary, study the feasibility of a cooperative processing facility. An economist will be added to the team to address goals (b) and (c). 4. Make this system available to farmers not only by continuing our current outreach efforts through conventional channels, but also by finalizing an organic peanut production manual and a computer-based decision-making tool. The preliminary production guide which became available on line in early spring 2007 will be refined and published in print form. The decision tool for prospective organic peanut growers will be completed, and agents and growers will be instructed in its use, and in organic peanut production generally. We will continue to conduct field days at the research sites and the farms. A self-contained traveling exhibit will be made available for use by any of the collaborators and others.


Statement of Problem The purpose of this project is to make it possible for regional growers to cash in on the burgeoning demand for organic peanuts in the U.S. The Southeast today is on the verge of creating an organic peanut industry. Our team of researchers and farmers proposes to assist in this impending leap. It is a leap from simply being able to grow organic peanuts, itself a daunting task that we are just beginning to achieve, to a bona-fide industry in which Southern farmers participate without unreasonable risk. Currently there is great momentum in this direction. The excitement is palpable. Yet many elements of the infrastructure are not yet in place, and it is critical that current work continue so that the leap at hand may land us gently in a green field of profitable organic peanuts. The interest in organic peanuts is growing (32,33,41,51). Acreage more than doubled from 2003-2005 alone (47). Our team regularly answers calls from processors wanting organic peanuts. Major food companies are undertaking organic peanut product lines (e.g. Smuckers). The Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) has a certified organic processing facility in Georgia, and Birdsong Peanuts provided untreated ‘Georganic’ seed for sale in 2006. (11,17,36) Despite the high demand and the fact that Southeastern farmers manage 88% of the nation's peanut acreage, certified organic production is confined to the Southwest. China has become a major exporter of peanuts, including organic (12,43,46). Southeastern growers are missing out on a great potential at a time of large shifts in peanut acreage and dropping prices (12). This project was initiated with Southern SARE support in 2005 to address the major barrier to Southeast organic peanuts, pest control, and we have made progress in this regard. We have determined that insect pests can be managed organically for peanuts, as long as irrigation is available. Peanut is attacked by a complex of arthropods in the Southeast (18,34), but with only two exceptions, these can be managed entirely through irrigation (3,29,34,36,38). The most important exception is thrips, causing direct loss and vectoring tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV). Our research has demonstrated that spinosad and neem oil provide significant reduction in direct thrips injury and TSWV, as do mulch and delayed planting (36). A second exception is southern corn rootworm, a problem in more northern production areas, where careful site selection provides adequate control. We have also found that organic management can provide adequate disease control after stand establishment. Against a background of proper cultural practices, most importantly a long rotation (29,34), resistance is the most effective tool (17,50,51). The new cultivar ‘Georganic’ has performed very well in our trials against leaf spot and TSWV (20) . The runner cultivars DP-1, GA-05E, and GA-01R, and Virginia-type NC-343 and Perry, also show excellent resistance. Our experiments have demonstrated that timely sprays of OMRI-approved copper fungicides can supplement resistance effectively (6). In addition to these encouraging results, a synthesis of all elements of organic peanut production is occurring, partly through this project. We have produced a preliminary production guide online (3). Speakers at a national symposium on organic peanut production were primarily project participants (36). And most telling, cooperating farmer Relinda Walker produced our first successful certified organic commercial crop in 2007, yielding over 3,000 lbs./acre. This added to approximately 80 acres elsewhere in Georgia transitioning to organic. Yet organic peanuts remain too risky for most Southeastern growers. In our on-farm trials from 2005-2007 at a total of six farms in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, only one crop was successfully harvested. Grower apprehension was demonstrated in 2007 when several Vidalia onion farmers cancelled plans to include organic peanuts in their rotations (Relinda Walker, personal communication). These experiences have helped us to refine our vision as we seek to renew this project. Here we propose a new phase of research focusing on those elements that have limited our success with organic peanuts, stand establishment and weed management, and add an economic component. Stand Establishment Poor emergence and uneven stands are common for organic peanuts in the Southeast (Chad Heard, personal communication). Relinda Walker’s successful crop in 2007 required a second planting, even though conditions were ideal at the initial planting. Seed quality and consistency may be part of the explanation, but foremost are seed/seedling diseases in an organic setting. Peanut are susceptible to damping off caused by Rhizoctonia solani, Pythium spp. Fusarium spp., and Aspergillus spp. (29). Chemical seed treatments are used on virtually all conventionally produced peanuts; without them stand losses of 40% or more are common. Organic controls of these diseases has received little attention (42). Rotation and site selection may help to minimize losses, but additional measures are likely to be needed to establish acceptable stands and prevent transmission of seed-borne pathogens. Treatment with Bacillus subtilis (45) or Pseudomonas spp. (28) has increased yield or emergence under some conditions, whereas essential oils were effective against A. niger when mixed with soil but not as seed treatments (27). Preliminary experiments by our team to evaluate the effect of peanut genotype, seed processing, and organic seed treatment on germination, seedling vigor, and incidence of seedling diseases suggested that there is significant genotypic variation in the rate of seedling emergence, susceptibility to pathogens, and seedling vigor. Hand-shelling compared to mechanical-shelling of seed peanuts improved emergence rates and reduced incidence of Aspergillus crown rot for some genotypes. (E. Cantonwine, unpublished). Weed Management Weed control has been the greatest challenge to organic producers throughout the U.S. in the Southeast (17,40). Weed inundation acting on weak stands has certainly been the downfall of all our cooperating growers to date. Without the use of herbicides, a suite of tactics is required to minimize early weed pressures prior to canopy closure. Utilization of a variety of weed management tactics has been referred to as the “many little hammers” approach (1). Each tactic individually may have a small effect on weed pressure reduction, but in combination these effects can result in weed populations below yield reducing thresholds. One “little hammer” is to find highly competitive cultivars that will shade out weeds early in the season. There is evidence that breeding under weed-free conditions has reduced the ability of crops to compete with the relatively higher weed populations experienced in organic systems (35). Crop rotation can effectively control weeds, especially when rotation species are judiciously chosen (16,23,30,31,44). Other cultural controls for weeds include narrow rows, which are more competitive with weeds and have been effective in peanuts (4,7,8,15,49), and conservation tillage, particularly strip tillage into a cover crop. Mechanical weed control is a critical component in organic crop production. Stale seedbeds, in which weeds are allowed to germinate then killed with multiple shallow tillage, have been effective in organic peanuts in Georgia (17,22,24,25). In our research, frequent mechanical cultivation appears to be the primary reliable means of weed control. A flex-tine cultivator utilized at cracking and repeatedly at 5-6 day intervals until canopy lapping, supplemented with a sweep cultivation for between-row broadleaves, appears to be ideal. In trials at Tifton, strip-tillage failed due to in-row weeds, and no-till into a clover cover suppressed weeds early in the season but required hand-weeding later. Commercial products such as Matran® and Groundforce® , flame weeding, and hydro-mulch offered little control in trials to date and can be quite costly. (3,26,36) Economics/Marketing The economics and profitability of organic peanut production is a fundamental question which must be addressed in order to responsibly make recommendations to farmers, but there is little understanding of costs, processes, and markets. Models for conventional peanuts have been used in a preliminary way for organic production, and have independently suggested profitability in the Southeast given the current premium prices and yields (9,36,43). However, the very limited experience with organic peanut production in the region provides little data to justify assumptions and to parameterize the models. Also, the output from the models currently leaves little room for variation in costs or prices before organic peanuts are no longer profitable. An important part of the economic outlook for organic peanuts is the availability of markets. Though consumer and processor demand are high, a major barrier exists in that there are no certified organic shelling facilities in the Southeast. Regional shellers have expressed interest in organic certification, but have not gone further because of lack of supply (Joe Sessions, Sessions Peanuts; Bill Bullard, Birdsong Peanuts, personal communications). The 2007 organic crop is being marketed raw in-shell through Destiny Produce Distributors, Whole Foods Markets, and Earthfare. Transitional peanuts have been sold for boiling through Hardy Farms, Hawkinsville, GA, and as seed for organic producers next year (Ronnie Barentine, Chad Heard, Relinda Walker, personal communications). Rationale The demand for organic peanuts continues to be pronounced, but again production is not occurring in the Southeast to meet that demand. The creation of state Organic Peanut Working Groups at the APRES meetings in 2006 reinforces and supports the effort to change this. Encouraging organic peanut production in the Southeast both diversifies existing organic farms, and retains or regenerates the economic competitiveness of a social foundation of the rural South, the small owner-operated family farm which has historically raised peanuts. The health of the farmers, the quality of soil and water, and the diversity of wildlife are preserved (2,4,37). A highly nutritious food staple is produced which reinforces a regional food production system, allowing area growers to gain a share of a potentially quite lucrative market. The proposed project renewal would help make this possible. Three years of work has taught us to expand on our systems orientation. Specifically, we are retaining successful integrative aspects of the project; namely: (1) the blending of reductionist (experiment station trials) and holistic (on-farm trials) methodologies; (2) involving minority, women, and underserved growers; and (3) creating an implicitly unified decision-making tool. In addition, this proposal seeks to update the current project to reflect our new knowledge and experience. Besides focusing on what are clearly the limiting factors in production (weed control and stand establishment ), we are also (1) proposing a grower stipend to reduce the significant risk incurred; (2) integrating all scientists more fully and continuously in on-farm trials, which has been instrumental in our success at Walker Farms in 2007; (3) cooperating with several new organic peanut projects; (4) expanding to include economic and processing considerations. We feel this comprehensive, systems approach, building on the successes and learning from the failures of the past, will allow us to help organic peanut production in the Southeast succeed. Significance Encouraging organic peanut production in the Southeast both diversifies existing organic farms, and retains or regenerates the economic competitiveness of a social foundation of the rural South, the small owner-operated family farm which has historically raised peanuts. The health of the farmers, the quality of soil and water, and the diversity of wildlife are particularly preserved with organic peanuts, because 90% of the conventional acreage is treated with some of the most toxic systemic granular insecticides (e.g. aldicarb) and relies heavily on herbicide application (34,37,38). Although some costs for organic peanut production are higher than those in conventional systems, considerable savings will result from eliminating pesticide application, which may represent 30% of the cost of production in high-yielding systems (33,34). Processors are currently offering $.80-1.20/lb. for organic peanuts, compared to < $.20 for commercial peanuts (36,46), and preliminary economic models suggest that growers can profit at current yields (36,43). This economic benefit may be achieved more easily with peanuts than with many specialty market niches, such as medicinal herbs, entailing fewer logistical changes. In the process, a highly nutritious food staple is produced which reinforces a regional food production system by displacing organic peanuts “imported” from New Mexico, allowing area growers to gain a share in a remunerative market for a product which, indeed, is identified with the South. Project Relevance to Sustainable Agriculture The preceding section described some of the specific contributions of the proposed project to the sustainability of agriculture in the South and wherever peanuts are grown under similar conditions. By developing and demonstrating the viability of organic peanuts in the Southeast from a very practical production standpoint, and making it straightforward for individual farmers to determine if organic peanuts are right for them and, if so, how they could be incorporated into their particular situation, the project addresses each of the three elements of sustainability: economic viability, environmental soundness, and social justice. Economic viability, because substantial price premiums and an additional, high-quality option in a rotation await exploitation as peanut acreage adjusts to the post-quota setting. Environmental soundness, because of the soil-building, low-input nature of peanuts from a fertility perspective, and recent developments, built upon by the work proposed herein, that allow elimination of chemical dependence from a pest-control perspective. Finally, the social justice issue is addressed by simply providing another means for the rural and often poor southern planters to be competitive by capitalizing on an already-familiar crop, but in a new way that should not be limited to growers on arid lands and far from eastern markets. This work would build on past SARE projects which have established the value of particular rotations for controlling root-know nematodes in peanuts in Alabama and Florida, studied cover crops to encourage beneficial insects, and demonstrated the need for information to transition to more sustainable peanut production methods in North Carolina (10,14,33,39,41). We are also enthused to work with a new Southern SARE Research and Education grant studying transitions to organic production on the coastal plain, which includes peanut in the rotation (no reports have been written yet) (E. Cantonwine, personal communication). Literature cited 1. Alternative Energy Resources Organization.1997. Proceedings of AERO 1995 Weed Management Alternatives Conference. Ed. S. K. Hilander. 2. Blum, U., L. D. King, T. M. Gerig, M. E. Lehman, and A. D. Worsham. 1997. Am. J. of Alt. Agric. 4:146-161. 3. Boudreau, M. A. 2007. Producing Organic Peanuts in the Southeast. http://www.greenagroecology.com/presentations/organicpeanuts.shtml 4. Buchanan, G. A., and E. W. Hauser. 1980. Weed Sci. 28:401-409. 5. Caldwell, B. and C. L. Mohler. 2001. HortScience. 36:703-705. 6. Cantonwine, E.G., Culbreath, A.K., Shew, B.B., and Boudreau, M. A. 2007. Plant Health Progress: (accepted with revision) 7. Cardina, J., A. C. Mixon, and G. R. Wehtje. 1987. Weed Sci. 35:700-703. 8. Colvin, D. L., G. R. Wehtje, M. Patterson, and R. H. Walker. 1985. Weed Sci. 33:233-237. 9. Davidson, J., M. Lamb, C. Butts, D. Sternitzke, and N. Widstrom. 2003. FarmSuite, a pattern for research and technology transfer. APRES abstract, available at http:://www.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/ 10. Dickson, D.W. 1995. Development of cropping systems for nematode management on agronomic and horticultural crops. Final Report, SSARE R/E Grant, Proj. No. LS92-046. 11. Dimitri, C., and Greene, C. 2002. Recent Growth Patterns in the U.S. Organic Foods Market. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Market and Trade Economics Division and Resource Economics Division. Agriculture Information Bulletin Number 777. 12. Dohlman, E., and J. Livezey. 2005. Peanut Backgrounder. Outlook Report No. (OCS05I01), USDA Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/OCS/Oct05/OCS05I01/OCS05I01.pdf 13. Grimme, E., Ziback, N.K., Skkora, R.A., Strobel, G.A., and Jacobsen, B.J. 2007. Plant Dis. 91:220-225. 14. Hamilton, H. 2001. Impacts on agricultural sustainability from structural change in peanut, poultry, swine, and tobacco production systems. Final Report, SSARE R/E Grant, Proj. No. LS97-085. 15. Hauser, E. W., C. C. Dowler, M. D. Jellum and S. R. Cecil.1974. Weed Sci. 22:172-176. 16. Hauser, E. W. and G. A. Buchanan. 1982. Production of peanuts as affected by weed competition and row spacing. Alabama Agric. Exp. Bull. 538. 35 pp. 17. Hebert Green Agroecology. 2004. Survey of farmers, former farmers, and processors involved with organic peanut production in the Southeastern U.S. Conducted July-October by Mark A. Boudreau. Individuals were contacted by telephone and e-mail. 18. Herbert, D. A. Jr., W. J. Petka, and R. L. Brandenberg. 1997. Peanut Sci. 24:128-134. 19. Herbert, D. A. Jr. 2002. Insect management in Virginia peanut, cotton, and soybean. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Information series No. 465. 20. Holbrook, C. C., and A. K. Culbreath. 2008. Registration of ‘Georganic’ peanut cultivar. J. Pl. Reg. 2: In Press, Accepted for publication June 2, 2007. 21. Hollowell, J.E., Isleib, T.G., Tallury, S.P., Copeland, S.C. and Shew, B.B. 2007. Screening of Virginia-Type Peanut Breeding Lines for Resistance to Cylindrocladium Black Rot and Sclerotinia Blight in the Greenhouse. Peanut Sci.: in press. 22. Johnson, W. C., III, and B. G. Mullinix, Jr. 1995. Weed Sci. 43:293-297. 23. Johnson, W. C. III, and B. G. Mullinix Jr. 1997. Weed Sci. 45:166-171. 24. Johnson, W. C., III, and B. G. Mullinix, Jr. 1998. Weed Sci. 46:698-702. 25. Johnson, W. C., III and B. G. Mullinix, Jr. 2000. Weed Technol. 14:519-523 26. Johnson, W. C. III, and B.G. Mullinix Jr. 2007. Peanut Science (in press). 27. Kishore, G.K., Pande, S. and Harish, S. 2007. Plant Dis. 91:375-379. 28. Kishore, G.K., Pande, S., and Podile, A.R. 2005. Can. J. Microbiol. 51:123-132. 29. Kokalis-Burelle, N., D.M. Porter, R. Rodriguez-Kabana, D.H. Smith, and P. Subrahmanyam. 1997. Compendium of Peanut Diseases, Second ed. St. Paul:APS Press. 30. Lapham, J. 1987. Proc. Br. Crop Prot. Conf. 3:1043-1050. 31. Menges, R. M. 1987. Weed Sci. 35:328-332. 32. Minor, E. 2004. Some peanut growers are considering going organic. Associated Press. Story accessed at The Billings Gazette, Billings, MT, Aug. 30 issue. Viewed at billingsgazette.com. 33. Morris, H. 1996. Alternatives to chemicals in the peanut cotton rotation. Annual Report, SSARE F/R Grant, Proj. No. FS96-044. 34. North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. 2003. Peanut Information 2004. Raleigh: NCCES-NCSU. 35. Oleson, J.E., P.K. Hansen, J. Berntsen, and S. Christensen. 2004. Field Crops Research 89: 263-280. 36. Organic Peanut Symposium. 2007. APRES Annual Meeting, July 13, Savannah, GA. 37. Palmer, W.E. 1992. Pesticides and wildlife–peanuts. Raleigh:NCCES-NCSU. 38. Pattee, H.E., and C.T. Young, eds. 1982. Peanut Science and Technology. Yoakum, TX: APRES. 39. Rodriguez-Kabana, R. 1996. Warm-season grasses as rotations for sustaining profitable peanut production. Final Report, SSARE R/E Grant, Proj. No. LS93-051. 40. SARE. Opportunities in Agriculture: Transitioning to Organic Production. Jan 2007. 41. SARE. 2003. The New American Farmer. Beltsville:USDA. pp. 91-93. 42. Sherwood, J.L., Beute, M.K., Shew, B.B., Elliot, V., Rodriguez-Kabana, R., Opperman, C., and Nelson, R. 1995. Biological and biotechnological control advances in Arachis diseases. Pages 160-206 in Pattee, H.E., and Stalker, H.T. (eds.), Advances in peanut science. Amer. Peanut Res. Ed. Soc., Stillwater, OK. 614 pp. 43. Smith, N. 2007. Presentation at Organic Peanut Field Day, Walker Farm, Sylvania, GA, July 26. 44. Thurston, J. M. 1976. Ann. Appl. Biol. 83:338-341. 45. Turner, J.T., and Backman, P.A. 1991. Plant Dis. 75:347-353. 46. USDA, National Agriculture Statistics Service. 2007. Table: U.S. and All States Data: Crops: Peanuts for nuts. http://www.nass.usda.gov/About_NASS/agriculture_counts.pdf USDA, Economic Research Service. 2007. Organic Production. Table 3--Certified organic and total U.S. acreage, selected crops and livestock, 1995-2005. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/organic. 48. USDA, Economic Research Service. 2007. Organic Production. Table 13--Certified organic acreage of other crops, by state, 2005. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/organic. 49. Wehtje, G., R. H. Walker, M. G. Patterson, J. A. McGuire. 1984. Peanut Sci. 11:88-91. 50. Wynne, J.C., M.K. Beute, and S.N. Nigam. 1991. Ann. Rev. Phytopathol. 29:279-303. 51. Yancy, C.H. 2000. Peanut Farmer 36:21-24. 52. Zehnder, G., Schonbeck, M., Boudreau, M.A., McDonald, R., McCann, B.M., and Sexton, J.S. 2007. IPM for Organic Crops (course), Cooperative Extension Curriculum Project. In press. http://www.cecp-online.org. (Currently can be viewed at http://dodea.ext.msstate.edu/regional_sare).


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  • Emily Cantonwine
  • Albert Culbreath
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  • Carroll Johnson
  • Marshall Lamb
  • Chris Reberg-Horton
  • Barbara Shew


Materials and methods:

Research trials were primarily conducted on plots at research stations in standard multifactorial designs, typically randomized complete blocks with 3-5 replicate plots. The trials were conducted at the Coastal Plains Experiment Station, Tifton, GA, and the Peanut Belt Research Station, Lewiston-Woodville, NC Because of the large number of researchers involved in this project, each evaluating different techniques for different aspects of peanut pest management over a period of 3-4 seasons, details of plot sizes, planting patterns and dates, and treatments are numerous and the reader is referred to specific publications below for this information. On-farm trials were conducted not as replicated and controlled experiments but simply were attempts, at each site, to integrate the information from the experiments to successfully grow organic peanuts under the local conditions. Four farms participated over the study period in Baker, Screven, and Sumter Counties in Georgia, and Perquimans County in North Carolina. Again, the practices and acreage varied from farm to farm and year to year.

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1. Stand Establishment. Organic seed treatments were evaluated in petri dish, greenhouse, and field studies in both Georgia and North Carolina and some showed promise for improving stand establishment. A number of biological control products and approved chemical treatments were tested against several pathogens and suggested that copper-based and Bacillus subtilis (Kodiak®)-based controls could inhibit infection and improve plant stands in some situations. The treatments interacted with cultivars but were not influenced by cover crops. Hand-shelled seed performed better than mechanically-shelled seed. A comparison of several different cultivars by the National Peanut Lab indicated great variation in establishment and subsequent performance. It became clear that high-quality seed must be planted in a very specific window of temperature and moisture conditions to provide a competitive stand which would evade thrips and tomato spotted wilt virus, yet mature in time for harvest. Growers should consider organic seed treatments and be prepared to replant for gap-filling each year. Objective 2. Weed control. Continued trials with several weed management techniques confirmed that at present, frequent mechanical cultivation is the only reliable means of weed control. A high seeding rate (20 seed/m) is valuable and wide rows perform better than twin rows at lower rates. A flex-tine cultivator utilized at cracking and repeatedly at 5-6 day intervals until canopy lapping, supplemented with a sweep cultivation for between-row broadleaves, appears to be ideal. A rotary brush cultivator may be effective if properly adjusted. Still, spot hand weeding may be necessary during the season. Objective 3. On-farm Integration. During the earlier round of this project (2005-2007), most participating farmers gave up after one year attempting to grow organic peanuts. Only in 2007 did one of our growers, Relinda Walker, produce an excellent, clean stand of peanuts that was successfully harvested and yielded 3,000 lbs/acre. Our experience indicated that the limiting factors for organic peanut production were primarily stand establishment and weed control, thus motivating the focus of this second round of work. Weeds could only be managed through early and frequent cultivations with a tine cultivator, and this was only effective if planting was sufficiently late to achieve warm soils which allowed, with adequate moisture, good germination. This was one reason we only recommend organic peanuts for growers with irrigation. In 2008, meeting these environmental criteria resulted in late planting, and so late harvest, which led to frost damage at the end of the season for two growers (Relinda Walker and Chad Heard in Georgia). A third participating grower, Kenny Haines in North Carolina, planted 5 a of virginia-type peanuts and 5 a of the runner ‘Georganic,’ but did not reach harvest due to weed pressure. Jimmy and Connie Hayes of Screven County, GA (near the Walker farm), who were not formally involved with the project, tried 20 acres of organic peanuts and produced good yields (3,000 lbs/a). Walker and Haines did not plant peanuts in 2009-10 because of the risk involved, but the Hayes farm began to participate, as did Koinonia Cooperative in Americus, GA. Hayes’s crop was successful again, but Koinonia was forced to plow in the trial because of poor stand establishment followed by equipment failure, which prevented adequate cultivation. Heard had poor yields in 2009 (600-1600 lbs/a, depending on cultivar). In the final year, only the Hayes farm attempted to grow organic peanuts, and repeated the good yields of 2008 and 2009. Objective 4. Outreach. The many publications, presentations, and outreach activities associated with this project are indicated in the section below. A display including a Powerpoint slideshow is available and was used at a number of grower venues. Hebert Green Agroecology had a website in which presentations and a preliminary grower guide were available until late 2009, when the site was closed, but these materials will again be available as the PI creates a new site in his current position as a faculty member at the University of Georgia. The work of this project will in many ways be summarized through an Organic Peanut Production Guide for the Southeast, which is currently in preparation. Arrangements have been made to publish this through the University of Georgia Extension press. The challenges of this system and regional variation have led us to concede that creation of a computer-based decision tool would be premature at this point. We hope that future work through other funding sources will make this possible one day.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Peer-reviewed journals: Cantonwine, E.G. C.C. Holbrook, A.K. Culbreath, R.S. Tubbs, and M. A. Boudreau. 2011. Genetic and seed treatment effects in organic peanut. Peanut Science (in press) Cantonwine, E.G., A.K. Culbreath, B.B. Shew, and M.A. Boudreau. 2008. Efficacy of Organically Acceptable Fungicides for Management of Early and Late Leaf Spot of Peanut. Online. Plant Health Progress doi:10.1094/PHP-2008-0317-03-RS. Johnson, W.C. III, B.G. Mullinix Jr., and M.A. Boudreau. 2008. Peanut response to naturally-derived herbicides used in organic crop production. Peanut Science 35:73-75. Johnson, W.C. III and B.G. Mullinix Jr. 2008. Potential weed management systems for organic peanut production. Peanut Science 35:67-72. Place, G.T., S.C. Reberg-Horton, D.L. Jordan, T.G. Isleib, and G.G. Wilkerson. 2011. Influence of Genotype on Peanut Response to Weed Interference. Peanut Science (in review). Place, G.T., S.C. Reberg-Horton, and D.L. Jordan. 2010. Interaction of Cultivar, Planting Pattern, and Weed Management Tactics in Peanut. Weed Science, 58:442-448. Ruark, S.J., and B.B. Shew. 2010. Evaluation of microbial, botanical, and organic treatments for control of peanut seedling diseases. Plant Dis. 94:445-454. Presentations/abstracts: Boudreau, M.A., E.G. Cantonwine, J.W. Chapin, A.K. Culbreath, W.C. Johnson III, and B.B. Shew. 2008. Organic Peanut Production Strategies for the Southeast. American Society of Agronomy Annual Meetings, Oct. 6, Houston. http://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2008am/webprogram/Paper46017.html. Cantonwine, E.G., C. Kendrick, J. Auerbach, A. Culbreath, C. Holbrook, and M. Boudreau. 2009. Genetic and Seed Treatment Effects on Stand Establishment in Organically Managed Peanut Fields. Proc. Amer. Peanut Res. Edu. Soc. 41:81. Cantonwine, E.G., J. Auerbach, A.K. Culbreath, C.C. Holbrook, & M. Boudreau. 2009. Efforts to improve stand establishment in organically managed peanut fields. Georgia Association of Plant Pathologists, Annual Meeting. St. Simons Island, GA. Johnson W.C. III. 2010. The Art and the Science of Cultivation for Weed Control in Organic Peanut. Amer. Peanut Res. Edu. Soc. 41:33-34. Johnson, W.C. III, N.B. Smith, D.A. Keiser, and M.A. Boudreau. 2008. Cultivation Strategies for Weed Control in Organic Peanut Production. Proc. Amer. Peanut Res. Edu. Soc. 40:65-66. Keiser, D.A., N.B. Smith, W.C. Johnson, and R.S. Tubbs. 2008. Economic Feasibility Analysis of Transitioning to Organically Grown Peanuts. Proc. Amer. Peanut Res. Edu. Soc. 40:25-26. Reberg-Horton, C., S. Mirsky, M. Cavigelli, J. Teasdale, R. Heiniger, A. Meijer, A.K. Culbreath, C. Crozier, G. Place, L. Grabau, H. Schomberg, J. Grossman, W.C. Johnson, and E.G. Cantonwine. 2010. Challenges and Opportunities with Organic Grain Production in the Southeast. Agronomy Society of America National Meeting, Longbeach, CA. Ruark, S.J., and B.B. Shew. 2008. Evaluation of Biological and Other Novel Seed Treatments for Use in Organic Peanut Production. Proc. Amer. Peanut Res. Edu. Soc. 40:20-21. Wann, D.Q., R.S. Tubbs, W.C. Johnson III, and A.K. Culbreath. 2010. Cultivation Duration and Frequency Effects on Two Peanut Cultivars Under Organic Management. Proc. Amer. Peanut Res. Edu. Soc. 42:63. (Won second place in Joe Sugg Graduate Student Competition) Thesis: Ruark, S. J. 2008. Evaluation of Biological and Other Novel Seed Treatments for Organic Peanut Production. M.Sc. thesis, NC State Univ. Extension: Pollack, C. 2011. Work continues on organic production. Peanut Grower, June. http://www.peanutgrower.com/home/issues/2011-06/2011_JuneOrganic.html Pollack, C. 2011. Organic peanut production now possible in Southeast. Southeast Farm Press, May 3. http://southeastfarmpress.com/peanuts/organic-peanut-production-now-possible-southeast?cid=nl_sefpd. Shew, B. B., Jordan, D., and Reberg-Horton, C. 2008. A New Look at Organic Peanuts. Virginia-Carolina Peanut News, Summer 2008, p. 7. Featured in National SARE Highlights 2009/2010 Report from the Field. Organic peanut demonstration scheduled for Sunbelt Ag Expo Field Day, Moultrie, GA, July 2011. Field day on organic peanuts held at Tifton, GA, June 2010. Displays on organic peanut production at Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group annual conference, Chattanooga, TN, Feb 2009; and Georgia Organics annual conference, Decatur, GA, Mar 2009.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The demand for organic peanuts continues to be pronounced, but again production is not occurring in the Southeast to meet that demand. Interest among farmers continues, but this is dampened by the lack of an organic shelling facility in the region, the escalating prices of competing crops in recent years, and the difficulties and risks of successful production that our study has truly brought home. By the end of the first grant supporting this project we were able to demonstrate that it is indeed possible to grow organic peanuts in the Southeast, with yields in excess of 3,000 lbs/acre attained by participating growers and growers outside the project in 2007. These results were repeated during this second grant. At the same time, other participating growers were not successful due to the issues we sought to address; namely, poor stand establishment and weed pressure. We feel that progress has been made to the point that we can describe the elements of a successful production system in detail for growers, but that experience and diligence are required and the recommendations need to be tailored to individual situations.

Farmer Adoption

Although our team has further refined production techniques and reached many growers with “the message” of organic peanut potential and how to reach it in the Southeast, few growers attempted this during our study period. This was not only due to the risks which we have always been clear about in our extension activities, but also two important factors: 1. High prices and secure markets for competing crops, both organic and conventional, particularly corn and cotton. 2. The lack of supporting infrastructure for organic peanuts in the Southeast. This includes a limited supply of untreated or organic seed of the most appropriate cultivars for organic production, and especially the absence of a certified organic sheller in the region. The high premiums for organic peanuts and the crop’s potential as a good rotational element keep interest high, but the adoption by more growers and the development of a bona-fide organic peanut industry in the Southeast depend more than anything now on development of this infrastructure. We find ourselves in a “Catch 22” situation in which shellers will not pursue a certified organic component of their operation without an adequate supply of organic peanuts, while farmers will not undertake organic production without a place to sell their crop.


Areas needing additional study

This and the previous SARE Research & Education grant funding this project have succeeded in defining the greatest risks to organic peanut farming in the Southeast, and recommendations for evaluating those risks and implementing a sound production system where appropriate. This work needs to be ongoing, and as we suggested in our last final report, this would best be accomplished through integration of peanuts into long-term organic systems trials at research sites in different representative regions, especially the virginia peanut areas in the north and the runner peanut areas in the south. It is here where we have the opportunity to collect solid data and attempt new techniques, which can be difficult on working farms. It is also critical that additional formal economic studies be undertaken to help determine when and where organic peanuts can be grown economically. These should include both micro-scale analyses for use by individual farmers, and meso- and macro-scale studies to evaluate and overcome the infrastructural and policy barriers which preclude meeting the high consumer demand for organic peanuts. Fortunately a SARE-funded transitions project involving multi-year rotations with peanuts is occurring in south Georgia, and indeed a number of researchers, including economists, now have ongoing programs involving organic peanuts. The grant we are reporting on here, along with its predecessor, has had a major role in fostering this work, and can arguably be credited with initiating a research, extension, and commercial production effort which now has a life of its own. A much larger organic peanut industry is inevitable, and it is hoped that this work will help the southeastern U.S. be a major part of it.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.