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.”

Sandier soils best

Sandier soils are best for peanuts. “When you dig peanuts, the soil will drop off easier. If you have a very silty soil, or clay, it tends to hang to the pods. That means the pods have to be run through cleaners, which can increase your harvest expenses.”

For growers in a corn rotation, “peanuts can work well. We don’t particularly care for it in a bean/corn rotation back-to-back. That’s because some of the same soil-borne soybean diseases will also attack peanuts.”

However, there’s “a good chance you could grow peanuts, wheat, double-crop soybeans and corn. Then, you could grow peanuts followed by corn. You just don’t want to get a rotation with soybeans and peanuts too close together due to potential disease issues.”

The peanut plots were planted the third week of May. The optimum planting time is the first week of May.

“We were just so far behind,” said Monfort. But the Mid-South heat wave “is pushing these peanuts hard. They should be ready around the first of October. These are usually 145-day varieties from planting to maturity.”

If everything falls into place, Monfort believes the Oklahoma peanut company can achieve its desired acreage in the area. “There are roughly 200 or 300 acres of peanuts around here, now. I think there’s a reasonable chance to have 3,500 to 4,000 acres next year.

“If they can get 5,000 to 7,000 acres planted in peanuts in this region, they’ll build a buying point facility. Then, when they need the peanuts, they’ll transport them on to the shelling facility in Madill.”

Peanuts can be a profitable venture for Arkansas farmers.

“It’s kind of like rice or cotton in terms of profit potential. But you have to manage this crop very closely. You can’t walk away from it. You can’t treat it like a secondary crop.”

Some farmers worry about rice or cotton first, then soybeans. Peanuts have to be watched and approached with the same precise management as rice and cotton.

“You have to stay right on top of them. When the crop is mature, it has to be harvested. If not, you’ll lose yield and disease — pod-rots — will come in.”

Is Arkansas a good environment to grow peanuts?

“The only issue we have here is we tend to get a lot of fall rain. If we can’t get the crop out quickly, it can hurt. But as far as the environment and soils available, we can grow peanuts very well.”

Specialized equipment required

Specialized harvest equipment is required for peanuts. Planting and spraying peanuts “is pretty standard compared to other crops we’re used to in Arkansas. But for harvest you have to come in with a digger. It moves beneath the crop and digs them out while inverting them. Two rows are placed together in a windrow.

“The foliage is thrown down with the nuts up. The peanuts then need to dry for three to five days in the field.”

Harvesters can handle anywhere from two to 10 rows at a time. Most of the four- to six-row equipment is pulled behind a tractor. “It’s PTO-driven and basically thrashes the vines and pulls the pods off. The pods then drop through and are air-blown into a basket. The nuts need to stay in the shell — you don’t want them out of the hull.”

What about choosing peanut varieties?

“Right now, the company wants to buy high oleic peanuts. Folks may have heard of high oleic soybeans. This is the same premise — they want a nut high in linoleic acid. That produces better quality oil and extends shelf life.”

Monfort pointed to the plots behind him and said, “There are five varieties planted here, some of the better candidates. These also may have tomato spotted wilt virus resistance or resistance to other pathogens. I’m very interested in how these varieties handle tomato spotted wilt virus (vectored by thrips), which plagues other peanut-growing regions. It isn’t here yet but it is in the south part of the state where a lot of commercial tomato-growing operations are. Eventually, it will reach up here.”

Hopefully, Arkansas growers will see peanut yields of 4,000 pounds (2 tons) to the acre. However, “if he can get 1.5 tons to 2 tons, a grower will at least be making money. These new varieties can yield very well.”

One sure thing, said Monfort, “is we’re going to do this peanut research correctly. I’m very interested in seeing what we can do, here. We’ll be putting a pivot up to irrigate next year’s crop.

“Pivots are better for irrigating peanuts. Southern blight and other soil-borne diseases tend to run along the soil line. If you keep the soil too wet — like often happens with furrow irrigation — it can really open the crop up to disease.”

Peanut vines lay tightly on the ground. “If you run water through and can’t get it off quickly you’ll have more trouble with rhizoctonia stem rot and southern blight. They’ll start eating at the crown and limbs. It’s easier to limit those types of problems with a pivot by changing the speed of the system and your water output.”

The farmers growing peanuts around Newport are using both means of irrigation. “If you have good drainage, then the irrigation tactic isn’t nearly as important,” said Monfort.

dbennett@farmpress.com