Since peanut production was deregulated in 2002, there have been significant shifts in production areas within states and between states as some traditional regions declined and others expanded.
In North Carolina, that has resulted in peanut production in some striking new places. One good example is Wake County in the central part of the state, where the capital, Raleigh, is located. In the southernmost part of the county, there are some good Coastal Plains soils, and one farmer has parlayed land there and neighboring Harnett County into good peanut yields.
Kent Revels of Fuquay-Varina N.C., just finished his third peanut crop. “We thought peanuts would be a little more profitable on our sandier land than corn or soybeans. Also, I needed to diversify, so I planted a couple of hundred acres of Virginia peanuts in 2007.”
The results were good then and in the two seasons since, and now Revels thinks peanuts may have a permanent place on his operation. But he doesn’t foresee an increase in plantings this year. Price is not the main reason.
“I am going to stay at around 200 acres a year because that is about as much as I can grow and still plant peanuts only once every four years.”
His rotation is peanuts, wheat, soybeans, soybeans again, then tobacco.
There could be a change. He doesn’t like the fact he has his peanuts following tobacco, and he would like to depend less on soybeans.
“I may try another crop before peanuts, maybe milo,” he said. “I would like to try milo. In dry weather, it has a better chance to make a crop than corn. But it is hard to find a market for it.”
Milo would definitely be a good option if you can find a way to market it, said David Jordan, North Carolina Extension peanut specialist. “Many farmers would rather grow grain sorghum than corn on droughty soils. But they need to show a profit on whatever they grow.”
Grain sorghum, corn and cotton are all better rotation choices than soybeans or tobacco.
Nothing else shows much promise. Jordan said that some of the new North Carolina peanut growers are planting sweet potatoes in their rotation. That could backfire. “There is a danger that you will get some soil problems that can affect your peanuts,” said Jordan. “But sweet potatoes are probably a better choice than tobacco or soybeans.”
Revels has one big advantage in that he is growing on virgin land. As far as he knows, peanuts have never been grown in his area of Harnett and Wake counties, about 30 miles south of Raleigh. Not surprisingly, peanut diseases haven’t been a problem so far. But he is very concerned that Cylindrocladium black rot could get in.
“This is about as far west as anyone grows peanuts in North Carolina,” he said. “Not all our land is suitable. We have some red dirt. We put our peanuts on loamy sand that has a little structure.”
Some specialized equipment was necessary. “I bought a combine, dryers and a dump cart, all used. I also bought an eight-row planter which I use for soybeans,” he said.
He has tried several different varieties trying to find the best choice for his land. “We have used VA98R, Gregory, NCV11, Champs, Perry and Philips,” Revels said.
Champs has given the best yield, he said, while Gregory and Philips have good disease packages.
“I am enjoying growing peanuts. It looks like a crop we could stay with.”
There were some potential problems with growing peanuts in Harnett and Wake counties. One was that poultry litter has been used in the past on the farms Revels tends.
“He had discontinued using poultry litter because of its effect on his tobacco,” said Don Nicholson, North Carolina Department of Agriculture regional agronomist. “But there was still a concern about the possible effects on peanuts of high levels of zinc left from the past use of poultry litter.”
Nicholson and Revels went over soil test reports to make sure pH levels were where they should be and identify fields where the zinc could be too high to safely grow peanuts.
Another concern was that soybeans play a big role in Revels’ rotation. “Soybean cyst nematode is a terrible problem in these sandy soils and they only get worse in rotations heavy with soybeans,” said Nicholson. “I would love to see something other than soybeans in everyone’s rotation in this area.”
That’s why Revels is looking hard at grain sorghum and other alternative crops to substitute for soybeans.
If a good rotation program can be developed, peanuts could be a credible crop in Coastal Plains soils in central North Carolina, said Nicholson. “Many growers in this area are used to growing flue-cured tobacco, a crop that responds to a high level of management. They could do well with peanuts once they learn how to manage the crop.”
Nicholson provided Revels with a lot of advice on growing peanuts.
“He was a good candidate because he manages his crops, and peanuts are a crop that responds favorably to management,” said Nicholson. “He takes pride in growing good crops, conserving his natural resources and leaving the land in better shape for generations to come.”
Still, he didn’t get off to an auspicious start. “The crop was disappointing in 2007 due to extremely hot, dry weather,” said Nicholson. “Yields were in only the 2,500 pound per acre range. But the next year, yields were much better, 4,200 pounds per acre. In 2009, yields were still good at 3,500 pounds per acre. They might have been better had the weather not turned so wet. That led to digging and harvesting problems.”