Much has been said and written about last year’s phenomenal peanut yields — a U.S. record-breaking average of more than 2 tons per acre.

Obvious factors contributing to such an astounding production include improved varieties and ideal weather conditions. A less obvious factor might be the increased use of GPS-based auto-guidance systems to harvest peanuts.

Some Alabama producers already are using the technology to enhance their yields and others are seeing the benefits as proven through research conducted at Auburn University.

Brenda Ortiz, Extension agronomist and assistant professor at the university, presented an update on the research at this year’s American Peanut & Research Education Society held in north Georgia.

The research is based on the premise that increasing the peanut digger efficiency by accurate placement over the target rows could minimize damaged pods and yield losses. Producers have traditionally relied solely on tractor operator skills to harvest peanuts. However, as peanut production has shifted to new growing regions in the Southeast U.S., growers face difficulties digging peanuts under conventional and new management schemes.

Current research is aimed at 1) determining the effect of row deviations from the target row on peanut yield and quality; and 2) determining the economic value of using auto-guidance systems to avoid tractor deviations during peanut harvest.

“During the last decade, the peanut production area in Alabama has expanded from the traditional region in the Southeast (with Coffee, Geneva, Henry and Houston counties providing 67 percent of the total production in 1999) to the central and southwestern part of the state, including Baldwin, Mobile and Monroe counties providing 18 percent of the total production in 2008. That means we have probably new peanut farmers and tractor operators with less experience harvesting peanuts,” says Ortiz.