Some 250 to 300 acres of peanuts are already being grown in north-central Arkansas’ Jackson County. And it won’t be a surprise if there is a big jump in peanut acreage come 2011.

“Around the Newport area, a few growers are feeling out peanuts, seeing how they’ll do,” says Jeremy Ross, Arkansas Extension soybean specialist. “A company out of Oklahoma (The Clint Williams Peanut Company of Madill) is driving this. They want to eventually build up in the state to around 10,000 acres. They’re soliciting farmers, right now.”

Based on the peanut plot stop at the annual Jackson County Extension Service Field Day, farmers indeed will be interested.

“The interest in peanuts is certainly ramping up around here,” said Randy Chlapecka, Jackson County staff chair, shortly after the field day. “I’ve had calls from farmers asking about growing them. They’re not diving into it, but they’re considering it. I also think some are waiting to see how the peanut acreage we’ve already got does this year.

“Of course, it’ll mostly hinge on economics. The big question is always: will it make money?”

Scott Monfort, Arkansas Extension plant pathologist, is spearheading peanut research in the state. Familiar with the crop since his early career in Georgia, Monfort and his crew have produced an impressive set of plots on the Newport station.

“The varieties we’re growing here — all ‘runner’ peanuts — include one from Georgia, two from Florida and two from Texas A&M,” said Monfort during the field day.

“We have peanut plots that must be inoculated — just like soybeans with rhizobium in order to secure and produce their own nitrogen. In this case, we decided to try both liquid and dry inoculants. So far, it seems the liquid innoculant is producing a few more pods on the plants.”

What about irrigating peanuts?

“We’ve got a lot of furrow-irrigated peanuts. Given an option, I’d use a pivot.

The problem with peanuts is the crop requires “intense management. Part of that is dealing with diseases. Southern blight — sometimes called white mold in peanut — can be devastating if the crop is kept extremely wet.”

Can peanuts be grown dryland?

Absolutely not, Monfort cautioned. “You’re looking at $500 to $600 worth of input costs with this crop. So, it needs to be irrigated. It takes about 1.5 to 2 inches of water a week when in full bloom.”

If the ground is hot and dry, “when the pegs hit the soil, they’ll burn off. For those unfamiliar with peanuts, it flowers aboveground. It then puts out a peg and that goes into the ground where the peanut is formed. That’s one of the reasons you have to keep the ground moist.”