Exploiting the Organic Peanut Market: Design of Production Systems for the Southeast
The first year of controlled experiments and on-farm trials to develop a system for organic peanut production in the Southeast has suggested that insect and disease constraints can be dealt with through existing varieties, irrigation, and other available techniques, but that weed control is the major limiting factor. New weed management methods are being studied experimentally and on smaller acreages at new and existing trial farms, and insect and disease control techniques are being refined. Extension efforts will be undertaken, in cooperation with other developing organic peanut projects, as a successful system is determined.
1. Address specific problem areas of organic pest management in controlled, replicated trials. Specific techniques will be applied alone and in combination in multifactorial experiments the first year of study, and the best performing combinations evaluated over the two subsequent years. To efficiently assess controls for all pests, an Area of Concentration (AOC) will pertain to each of the three collaborating research locations reflecting the expertise at each location.
2. Implement and assess rational management plans for organic peanuts on farms in the region. Experience, prior information, and results from Objective 1 (after the first year) will contribute to a management plan to include organic peanut production at a number of certified organic farms throughout the Southeast. Pests will be repeatedly monitored at each site and the efficacy of control techniques re-evaluated and updated each season.
3. Develop a decision-making template as an aid to incorporating organic peanut production into particular farms. A computer- and paper-based tool which integrates extensive information on successful methods, and an algorithm to consider and compile them into a customized peanut management scheme, will be built, tested, and made available togrowers and extension agents through a variety of entry points.
4. Disseminate findings to growers in the southern region. Both traditional and novel outreach strategies will be used, including a publication, an internet site for Objective 3, and a traveling exhibit targeted to large gatherings of growers.
Objective 1 was carried out successfully with promising results in the following Areas of Concentration:
Insect Management. Experiments carried out at the Edisto Experiment Station in Blackville, South Carolina focused on thrip control, with other insects largely managed through irrigation. The commercial organic products containing neem extract and spinosad were effective against thrips, as was mulch. Insecticidal soaps, kaolin, pyrethrum, and sulfur did not control thrips. Rootworm may be a problem in more northern locations and not manageable through irrigation, therefore site selection away from conventional fields and testing of organic products may be important in North Carolina and Virginia.
Disease Management. Experiments at Lewiston, North Carolina, and Tifton, Georgia indicated that cultivar resistance with the selective use of copper compounds may be effective for control of late leaf spot, which was the dominant fungal disease in 2005. Early leaf spot was not pronounced that year. Tomato spotted wilt virus was a problem but resistance and insect management techniques above appear adequate. Intercropping with cotton may reduce leaf spot, but neem oil, Serenade, or Serenade with copper were not effective. Proper planting time and irrigation are crucial for good stand establishment with untreated seed.
Weed Management. This is the primary constraint to organic implementation, particularly grass weeds. In trials at Tifton, strip-tillage was not effective due to in-row weeds. No-till into a clover cover suppressed weeds early in the season but required hand-weeding later, and commercial products such as Matran and Groundforce were not successful. Flame weeding may be effective but is probably not commercially viable. For transition periods with heavy weed pressure, mechanical cultivation is probably most effective, but even still spot hand-weeding may need to be utilized.
Objective 2 was carried out on three participating farms near Americus and Sylvania, Georgia, and St. Matthews, South Carolina. Repeated observation indicated that insects and disease were not problems, though some TSWV occurred, and that weeds were easily the most important limiting factor. Surveys of the dominant weed species were conducted. None of the operations practiced no-till, and a wet spring resulted in poor emergence of some varieties and limited mechanical cultivation, such that the crop was abandoned at Americus. The St. Matthew’s site was mowed at peanut canopy height repeatedly but a probably yield below 1000 lbs/acre discouraged the grower from digging. Only at Sylvania were two acres maintained until digging through hand-weeding; unfortunately the crop was subsequently consumed by deer and no yield data were taken.
The final products of Objectives 3 and 4, a production guide, a decision tool online, and a traveling exhibit, will be developed later in the project after more than a single season of trials has been completed, and as a production system is further developed. However, the project team and Hebert Green Agroecology are cooperating in a number of outreach activities, including participation in the Georgia Peanut Tour and the newly-formed Organic Peanut Working Group in Georgia; communication with ATTRA regarding an organic peanut production publication; presentations at an organic symposium at the July, 2006 meeting of the American Peanut Research and Education Society in Savannah, GA, as well as at professional society meetings in the various Areas of Concentration; and fielding questions from growers and processors at all times in formal and informal settings.
Throughout the initial year, the Coordinator, Mark Boudreau, visited all farms multiple times and each research sites at least once, maintaining telephone and e-mail communication with all parties at all times. A conference call with all scientists and Luanne Lohr, economist at the University of Georgia with an interest in organic peanut production, was overseen by Dr. Boudreau on January 17 to review results and discuss plans for 2006. Three additional growers, including two in Halifax County, NC who will be growing Virginia-type peanuts, have been added to the project, with all participants reducing their acreage to manageable, and less risky, 1-3 acre fields. However, growers in Americus, GA, and St. Matthews, SC, are not producing peanuts this year, but rather concentrating on cover cropping and tillage to reduce the weed seed bank. They plan to grow organic peanuts in 2007.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The demand for organic peanuts is growing and all members of this team have been repeatedly reminded during the initial year of the project. Calls from interested processors trying to obtain organic peanuts are common, as is interest among farmers in growing them. An article on this topic, including this SARE project, appeared in The New Farm online magazine. Smuckers is beginning an organic peanut butter line, and other processors are sourcing organic peanuts from China now. Birdseye Peanut Company is initiating organic peanut handling at a Damascus, Georgia facility this year, and beginning increasing of seed for organic producers.
In this environment, it is frustrating that a production system is not in place for the Southeast. The impact of the current project therefore has the potential to be very great indeed, should we succeed in outlining such a system.
Research Assistant Professor
North Carolina State University
Dept. of Plant Pathology
2518 Gardner Hall
Raleigh, NC 27695-7616
Office Phone: 9195152730
Edisto Research and Education Center
64 Research Station Rd.
Blackville, SC 28802
Office Phone: 8032843343
University of Georgia
Coastal Plain Experiment Station
P.O. Box 748
Tifton, GA 31793-0748
Office Phone: 2293863156
Research Agronomist, Weed Science
Coastal Plain Experiment Station
P.O. Box 748
Tifton, GA 31793
Office Phone: 2293863172