It’s one of the most important decisions a peanut producer will make in a year but also one of the least certain — determining crop maturity.

There’s a lot of guessing going on each year around peanut harvest time, and the economic impacts of making a bad decision can come back to bite you, says Marshall Lamb, research director of for the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga.

That’s reason enough for researchers to try and get a better handle on improving maturity distribution in peanuts, he says.

One such effort focuses on chemically halting flowering late in the growing season, says Lamb.

“We’re asking the question, ‘Can flower termination to prevent immature peanuts lead to improved maturity distribution, flavor, grade, yield, outturn and other factors?’”

The research project began in Dawson in 2012, and was gradually expanded in 2013 based on encouraging results, he says. “We’re looking at actually changing the flowering patterns in peanuts.”

When growers have peanuts that are far black, or approaching far black on the maturity profile board, there is a point to where additional flowers will develop pegs and pods, but those pods won’t help with yield or grade. They’re taking energy away from the plant that could be better utilized by more mature, higher-yielding, higher-grading peanuts, he explains.

“A lot of people don’t realize that the peanut is a perennial plant. It’s not an annual — we simply farm it as an annual because of cold weather coming in and other factors. In research at Tifton, peanuts have actually been kept alive for more than three years,” says Lamb.

“As long as you keep the pesticides on them and keep them watered and fertilized, they’ll live, and they’ll continue to bloom during that time. We simply farm them differently than they grow in nature. The problem is since they’re an indeterminate crop, they’ll continue to fruit without stopping, he adds.

“So it comes down to a judgment call, and all peanut producers have sweated this particular judgment call in the past on when to dig — it’s a very important decision.

“We have the most mature peanuts on the entire vine, yet we have other peanuts that haven’t had time to mature. But you can lose the more mature ones in order to gain the less mature peanuts.”