Exploiting the Organic Peanut Market: Design of Production Systems for the Southeast

2007 Annual Report for LS05-169

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $159,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Mark Boudreau
Hebert Green Agroecology, Inc.

Exploiting the Organic Peanut Market: Design of Production Systems for the Southeast


The third year of controlled experiments and on-farm trials to develop a system for organic peanut production in the Southeast was a bit of a watershed, as we overcame the difficulties experienced during the first two seasons and produced our first successful commercial crop at one of our participating farms. Our goal was to refine the work of the last two years by reducing efforts aimed at insect control and emphasizing seed/seedling disease control, stand establishment, and weed management. We focused on small acreages on only two farms, with intensive involvement from scientists, including equipment loan for seed bed preparation and cultivation, and assistance from Marshall Lamb and Judith Carter at the National Peanut Research Lab (NPRL) located near our Americus, GA grower. Though this grower experienced equipment problems and labor shortages that resulted in no crop, Walker Farms near Sylvania, GA produced over 3,000 lbs/acre organic peanuts, sold to Whole Foods and Destiny Distributors in Atlanta and elsewhere. The project’s first papers were published and presentations completed, and a well-attended field day took place at Walker Farms. Our preliminary on-line organic peanut production guide continues to be available at the lead institution’s website.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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 to growers 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. Research station trials in 2007 corroborated the results of the previous year for the most part. Copper sprays and to a lesser extent sulfur provided sufficient control of leaf spot in conjunction with resistance afforded by Georganic and GA-05E in Georgia and NC-343 in North Carolina. New experiments with Virginia peanuts in North Carolina compared organic seed treatments, cover crops, and cultivars to improve stand establishment, but promising greenhouse results with Vitavax PC did not hold up in the field. Frequent cultivation appears to be the best approach for weed control, which remains the biggest limiting factor in organic peanut production. The flex-tine cultivator seems well-suited for this purpose.

Objective 2. The 2005 and 2006 on-farm trial experience encouraged us to concentrate on small acreages on only two farms in 2007, lowering the farmers’ investment and risk and allowing regular visits by team scientists. Three-acre plantings were done at two sites in Georgia. One of these (Koinonia, Americus, GA) had been used in 2005 and the weed pressure then prompted a fallow summer in 2006 with multiple cultivations to lower the weed seed bank population. The second was Walker Farms in Sylvania, GA, which produced a crop in 2005 that was consumed by deer after digging, and was overrun by weeds in 2006.

Unfortunately, weeds took over at the Koinonia site because cultivation equipment was not in working order at crucial early stages. A small area of the plots was hand-weeded for a time, but ultimately the entire planting was abandoned. The Walker Farm produced an excellent, clean stand of peanuts that was successfully harvested and yielded 3,000 lbs/acre, which was a much-needed accomplishment. Because of the absence of organic shelling facilities, Relinda Walker packaged the peanuts herself and was able to sell them through retail and wholesale outlets in the region.

Objective 3. Because we have only just succeeded in a viable organic peanut production system, the creation of a computer-based decision tool for growers remains premature. We were naive in proposing this aspect of the project at such an early stage. However, because the project continues through a no-cost extension in 2008 and a second round of funding until 2010, we intend to complete this task despite the delay.

Objective 4. Papers were published in Peanut Science on weed control (Johnson, Mullinix, and Boudreau, authors) and Plant Health Progress on disease control (Cantonwine, Culbreath, Shew, and Boudreau, authors) directly resulting from experiment station trials under this project. The latter paper was nominated for a Bailey Award at the Plant Management Network as well. A poster describing the on-farm trials at Walker Farms was presented at multiple locations. Our progress at Walker Farms was demonstrated at a field day there on July 26 which was very successful, and included presentation of a preliminary economic model for organic peanut production by Dr. Nathan Smith of the University of Georgia. An interim organic peanut production guide continues to be available at Hebert Green Agroecology’s website.

Dr. Johnson will present his weed research on organic peanuts at the American Peanut Research and Education Society meetings this July, and Dr. Boudreau will be presenting an overview of the project at the American Society of Agronomy meetings in October, and more papers in peer-reviewed journals are planned.

Impacts and Contributions/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 to grow, but this is dampened by the lack of an organic shelling facility in the region, coupled with the escalating prices of competing crops. In 2007 we learned of Chad Heard, a large farmer producing conventional peanuts in southwest Georgia, who is transitioning 75 acres to organic and planted them all to peanuts in 2007. Chad attended the field day and now communicates with us regularly, and in fact is a formal cooperator as we move into a second 3-year phase of this project thanks to SARE’s good graces in 2008.

We feel that we have crossed a threshold in 2007 with Relinda Walker’s historic crop. We are proud that we have demonstrated that it is possible to grow organic peanuts in the Southeast, and have the ability to offer sound advice to interested growers as we repeat and refine a workable system in the coming years. All of our cooperators would agree that though we have a great many challenges ahead, the excitement about organic peanuts at the moment is palpable!
Mark Boudreau, Director and CEO
Hebert Green Agroecology, Inc.
825C Merrimon Ave.
Box 334
Asheville, NC 28804
Phone: 828-258-1757
Fax: 828-252-6943
E-mail: markb@greenagroecology.com
Website: www.greenagroecology.com
Jay Chapin, Professor:
Clemson University
Albert Culbreath, Professor:
University of Georgia
Carroll Johnson, Research Agronomist, Weed Science:
Barbara Shew, Research Assistant Professor:
North Carolina State University

SARE Grant

Project Number: LS05-169
Type: Research and Education Project
Region: South



Barbara Shew

Research Assistant Professor
North Carolina State University
Dept. of Plant Pathology
2518 Gardner Hall
Raleigh, NC 27695-7616
Office Phone: 9195152730
Jay Chapin

Clemson University
Edisto Research and Education Center
64 Research Station Rd.
Blackville, SC 28802
Office Phone: 8032843343
Albert Culbreath

University of Georgia
Coastal Plain Experiment Station
P.O. Box 748
Tifton, GA 31793-0748
Office Phone: 2293863156
Carroll Johnson

Research Agronomist, Weed Science
Coastal Plain Experiment Station
P.O. Box 748
Tifton, GA 31793
Office Phone: 2293863172