To determine which technique and variety for growing organic peanuts on a small scale will produce the highest marketable yield for this climate and region based on these questions:
Can transplanted peanuts produce more than direct seeded peanuts? Does row cover increase the yield for either technique?
Do hilled beds increase yields?
When compared to Valencia peanuts, will black peanut varieties like Schronce’s Deep Black, produce larger yields while also creating a niche peanut product?
Each of these questions will be answered by measuring the weight in pounds of dried, marketable fresh peanuts in several categories for each variety. To determine what profit can be made based upon the results of this project and the price per pound that could be received through the market of Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative. Hopefully these numbers will encourage farmers to continue to grow and experiment with organic peanuts in this region.
Peanuts are traditionally grown in very specific regions of the United States. As a beloved food item, and with local and regional food becoming more popular every year, peanuts may have the potential to become a new market item for farmers in Pennsylvania. Specifically for the certified organic produce farmers that make up Tuscarora Organic Growers (TOG) Cooperative, the organic production of peanuts on their small-scale farms may have the potential to boost sales for member farmers and the cooperative by offering another niche produce item to their customers, many of whom are metropolitan-based high-end retail stores and restaurants who enjoy trying unique products. The cooperative may also have the ability to be at the forefront of this new market for fresh and organic peanuts. In addition, this product may help diversify income and product offerings in other TOG farmer enterprises, such as Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) sales and farmers market sales, especially during the fall and winter season.
Conversations and experiences lead me to believe that trialing peanut production is worth the time. Already one farm within the TOG cooperative has grown peanuts as a trial crop for the past few seasons, with customers buying their limited, but entire supply. Another cooperative member, who will be the cooperating farmer, has also expressed interest. After growing peanuts as a trial crop in a hoophouse setting at a previous job, I also started to contemplate if this crop could be more seriously grown in Pennsylvania. Adding peanuts into a farmer’s operation can diversify crops and crop rotations, which further contributes to the sustainability and resiliency of their farm and farm ecosystem. As a member of the legume family, peanuts also have the ability to rejuvenate the soil with nitrogen, adding yet another way to harness the power of systems within the natural world around us. If our cooler climate enables us to have less of the pest and disease pressure of the south, this could also contribute to more sustainable peanut production and potentially make it easier for farmers utilize organic production practices. In addition, with an increasing uncertainty of seasonal weather patterns and the continuing shift of our global climate, the potential to expand a historically territorial crop like peanuts may prove to be an important undertaking if we hope to have these crops in the future.
On a small scale, fresh peanuts may be the most easily profitable peanut product. However, on a larger and even more regional scale, the potential for production of peanuts in Pennsylvania could create new industries and businesses. Roasted peanuts and value-added peanut products could loom in the future for larger operations, if it proves to be a viable crop and enterprise here. The exploration of peanut growing and beyond in Pennsylvania has yet to begin, and thus the possibilities are limitless.
On April 16th, I seeded 3 72 cell flats each of Schronce’s Deep Black peanuts and Tennessee Red Valencia peanuts. They were kept in a heated greenhouse until ready to be transplanted. They were transplanted on May 26th into a field where an overwintered cover crop of rye had been turned in. Four beds were laid out, about 5 ft apart, center to center and 124 ft long. Two beds were “hilled” by making raised beds. Drip tape was laid on top of each bed. Sixteen sections were laid out. Each variety of peanut had one of the following categories to equal 16 total sections: 1) Transplanted, Hilled Bed, Without Row Cover 2) Transplanted, Hilled Bed, With Row Cover 3)Direct Seeded, Hilled Bed, Without Row Cover 4) Direct Seeded, Hilled Bed, With Row Cover 5) Transplanted, Flat Bed, Without Row Cover 6) Transplanted, Flat Bed, With Row Cover 7) Direct Seeded, Flat Bed, Without Row Cover 8) Direct Seeded, Flat Bed, With Row Cover. Row cover was placed were indicated on the diagram. Hoops were used to keep the row cover above the plants. In the bed furthest to the left, the “Hilled, Transplanted” bed, plastic animal netting was preventatively draped and secured over hoops on the two section that were not covered with reemay. This bed was closest to a patch of woods and groundhogs were known to be a problem in this area. Transplants and seeds were watered as soon as they were planted. Not enough seeds were ordered to for field planting, and several of the “direct seeded” sections had less seeds planted than desired. The patch was hoed on June 4th, about one week later. Most seeds planted in the field had sprouted by this time. Other weedings took place by hand-pulling on 6/28, 7/24, and 8/9. Row cover was removed on 6/28. Netting remained on the entire left-most bed until the plants became too crowded under the netting. Watering took place as needed, which was not frequently due to a rainy season. A plant tissue analysis was performed on 7/19, and on 7/24, 20 lbs/ac total of 13-0-0 protein meal was added at the recommendation of test results.
At the end of August and in September, selected peanut plants were pulled to perform peanut maturity tests to help determine when to dig. All peanuts were dug on 10/13 using digging forks. All peanuts were picked off plants and put into mesh bags. There was one mesh bag for each of the sixteen sections. Peanuts were put into a drying rack on 10/14 in the upper barn with a continuous fan blowing through the bottom of the rack. The fan was angled in different ways to ensure the entire drying rack was receiving air. Peanuts were exposed to ambient air temperatures, which at this point in the season, were getting close to freezing at night. Peanuts were checked about one week later for dryness. This was measured simply by tasting the peanuts. It was decided to let the peanuts dry in the rack with the fan for a few more days. The peanuts were moved into a space heated to about 85 degrees at the very end of October. In about a week and a half they were acceptably dry. This again was measure by tasting the peanuts. The peanuts were sorted, as some shells did not have fully formed seeds inside. This was easier to distinguish after the peanuts were completely dried and the shells took on noticeably different appearances. Each of the 16 sections of the experiment were weighed separately after they had been sorted.
This year was a very interesting growing season for much of PA. It was one of the wettest years on record. From an observational standpoint, it did not seem to have some of the prolonged summer heat we are accustomed to getting, and there also seemed to be a lack of sun. Though we have no other years to compare our yields too, I feel certain that this did not present ideal conditions for producing peanuts. Some other conditions that could have effected production include delayed transplanting into the field causing the plants to become larger than ideal in the flats. In retrospect, the transplants could have been seeded the beginning of May in cell flats; they grow quickly like other legumes. Due to the rainy weather, there was also a lack of time to properly prep the field. A fair amount of cover crop residue was still present when planting and seeding creating less than ideal conditions for the plants and seeds to take hold quickly. Despite peanuts being a legume and able to fix nitrogen for themselves, a lack of nitrogen in the plants that was identified by a plant tissue analysis. We believe this period of lack of vigor could have affected the final yields. The germination of some, but not all, direct seeded peanuts was extremely poor. This seemed be based on variety and whether the section had row cover. However, because the peanut is a perfect flower, the row cover was able to stay on significantly longer than if the plants would have needed pollination. This may have helped the plants retain heat and thus maintain vigor in an unpredictable weather season. Despite the challenges, we did harvest many beautiful and nicely-sized peanuts.
There did seem to be differences between varieties in days to maturity, size, and vigor. Results and discussion are still being compiled for sale outlets and yield results.