Higher yields could be in store for peanut farmers, thanks to a new planter and planting pattern designed by Agricultural Research Service scientists in Dawson, Ga.

For 72-inch-wide raised beds, runner-type peanut cultivars are normally seeded at a rate of six seeds per foot in pairs of either single or twin (double) rows. But ARS agricultural engineer Don Sternitzke and associates propose staggering the seeds in an offset or diamond-shaped pattern that accommodates up to 12 rows on each bed.

Promotes higher yields

Data from fall 2001 harvests suggest the method promotes higher yields than either single- or twin-row patterns by reducing the plants' competition for sunlight, water and nutrients. At one Georgia test site, for example, diamond rows averaged nearly 6,400 pounds of uncleaned pods per acre versus 5,300 pounds for twin rows and 5,100 pounds for single rows.

Spacing the plants in a uniform, staggered manner also promotes thicker, faster-spreading canopies that help keep the soil bed cool, moist and better protected from erosion. Improved weed control is another benefit. In field plots, beds planted with diamond rows had 34 percent fewer weeds than beds with twin rows, according to Sternitzke, at ARS' National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson (http://nprl.usda.gov) Use of the single- and twin-row patterns in peanut fields stems from the type of planter and peanut digger equipment available to farmers, according to Sternitzke.

Equipment not available

But no such equipment exists for handling additional rows, or for a diamond-row pattern. So, he designed an entirely new type of planter that creates multiple diamond rows as readily as single and twin rows. To facilitate harvesting of diamond rows, Sternitzke also invented a new peanut digger that can unearth pods across a 72-inch bed. He's now experimenting with a method of enabling the diamond planter to easily accommodate other large-seeded crops.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.