Growing organic peanuts throughout the Southeast, although a challenge, is no longer impossible.

The key is careful timing at planting and frequent mechanical cultivation during production.

Six years of on-farm research and university experiment stations trials in Georgia and the Carolinas, funded by Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grants, show that farmers can grow organic peanuts and yield a respectable 3,000 pounds per acre or more.

It takes some careful planning and intensive production practices to make it work, said Mark Boudreau, a public service assistant with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension and one of the project leaders.

“Peanuts are practically synonymous with the Southeast. Over 80 percent of the peanut production comes from the region, but when it comes to organic, nearly all of the production is in Texas and New Mexico,” said Boudreau, a member of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.

“There is a huge demand for organic peanuts. There is no reason why the Southeast can’t get in the game.”

Boudreau said that growing organic peanuts in the Southeast poses two challenges: Control of insects, diseases and weeds during production and the lack of infrastructure in the region to shell organic peanuts and sell on a large scale to processors.

The team of researchers and farmers in Georgia and the Carolinas conducted on-farm trials and controlled experiments to develop a system for organic peanut production. They focused on pest management and weed control.

They found that insects could be controlled through irrigation. Thrips would require foliar sprays of an organic insecticide, spinosad, when needed. Post-establishment diseases could be managed via resistant varieties and some organic sprays if necessary.

“That was the easy part,” Boudreau said. “The overwhelming limitation was weed control. When the crops failed, it was generally because of weeds.”

Boudreau said one way to overcome some weed pressure is to get a good stand of organic peanuts quickly established long before weeds even show up.

“A farmer needs to know his farming system. He needs to know the land and the weather,” said Boudreau. “The saying goes that if you see a weed, then it’s already too late.”

Ultimately, the project investigators recommended intensive mechanical cultivation as the key to controlling weeds in organic peanut fields.