Exploiting the organic peanut market: refining production systems for the Southeast
Evaluation of stand establishment, seed treatment, and weed control in organic peanut production continued at experiment stations in Georgia and North Carolina. On-farm trials produced good crops in Georgia at two farms. Data was collected for economic analysis, and information was shared with growers and agents at meetings and peanut training sessions. Plans for an organic peanut field day were begun, and work continued on establishing marketing infrastructure. Papers were submitted to scientific publications on seed treatment and weed control.
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.
The experimental work to establish a good peanut stand through comparing seed treatments and timing of planting has continued, along with trials to evaluate no-till, cultivation, and other weed-control strategies after a stand is established. In 2009 two farms cooperated; one (Jimmy Hayes, Screven County) produced a good crop, and the other (Chad Heard, Baker County) compared several cultivars in cooperation with our scientists, some of which failed while other performed better.
Data collected in 2009 will contribute to an economic analysis and an enterprise budget that will appear in the production guide. Scientists on the project have been communicating their results through research publications and extension activities with agents. An organic peanut field day is planned for summer of 2010 in cooperation with the Georgia Organics organization. One of our growers purchased shelling equipment so that a means to sell certified organic peanuts locally became a possibility for the near future.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
A paper evaluating organic seed treatments has been submitted to Plant Disease by Barbara Shew, and one evaluating organic peanut weed control has been submitted by Chris Reberg-Horton to Weed Science. As mentioned above, an organic peanut field day is planned for Tifton in summer 2010.
Overall we feel we have a good understanding of practices that are necessary for organic peanut production in the SE, and after a final year of trials in 2010 will be in a position to publish a production guide for distribution by 2011.