October 20, 2010 Edition

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Lawrence County Extension Agent Herb Ginn (left) examines this year's peanut crop with Tennessee farmer Walter Rice.
TD Photo ~ Shantelle Prater

Peanuts could make
comeback in Arkansas

Shantelle Prater
Staff Writer

According to Mary Hightower of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, more than one million acres of peanuts were grown in Arkansas in 1915. Now only an estimated 1,000 acres of peanuts are planted in the state, with more than 500 planted in Lawrence County.

Walter Rice of College Station, Tenn., has attracted the attention of several local farmers and agriculture officials as he attempts to successfully grow peanuts in the county.

Rice became interested in growing the crop through friends employed at Birdsong Peanuts in Aberdeen, Miss.

"I kept watching them and became fascinated by the process so I decided to give it a whirl," he said.

The Tennessee native began looking for a farm that had perfect peanut farming conditions. He needed sandy soil with a cation exchange capacity (CEC) below 10.

CEC is the capacity of a soil for ion exchange of cations between the soil and the soil solution. It is used as a measure of fertility, nutrient retention capacity and the capacity to protect groundwater from cation contamination.

While searching for a farm in west Tennessee, Rice received a call from farmer Billy Ray James of Pocahontas. He informed Rice about his ground in Lawrence County.

"Somehow he found out I was looking for a farm that had sandier-type ground. He said he had a farm that he thought would fit the bill," said Rice.

"I didn't have any interest in coming this far but it was raining that day and I didn't have anything else to do."

Although the farm is further from home than Rice had intended, he has been pleased with the crop production thus far.

"For my first time, so far I have been very pleased," Rice said. "It has the potential to be a very profitable crop in this area."

Peanuts develop best in loose, sandy soil and require a minimum of 120 frost-free days to reach maturity.

Once planted, peanut seedlings crack the soil after roughly 10 days. Yellow flowers appear around 40 days after planting. The flowers begin to pollinate themselves and fall off as the peanut begins to form. The budding ovary, known as the peg, grows away from the plant on a vine and penetrates the soil.

"Peanuts need about 135 days to make a crop," said Rice. "It's a lot like cotton."

Peanuts are usually planted after the last frost in April or May, when soil temperatures reach 65 to 70 degrees.

"We had some early season rain that kept us from planting when we wanted to," Rice said, "but we have not seen any negative results from the late planting."

Unlike local rice and soybean farmers, Rice has not experienced too many weather-related impacts.

"The extreme heat which hurt beans didn't affect the peanuts," said Rice. "It is also more drought resistant."

Pigweeds have been the main problem for the farm this year.

"Pigweeds aren't only affecting the peanuts," Lawrence County Extension Agent Herb Ginn said, "But are also in soybeans really bad this year."

Although Rice did not mechanically cultivate the crop this year, a herbicide program was in place to control weed issues.

"We had to bring in a crew to chop out the pigweed," said Rice. "They were all over the farm so we had to chop it out to get control of it."

Rice also received guidance from local Extension agents Ginn and Bryce Baldridge, along with other agriculture officials.

"I am glad that the Extension has been able to help Rice as we are lucky to have two specialists with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service that have backgrounds in peanuts, Dr. Scott Monfort, extension plant pathologist, and Dr. Bob Scott, extension weed specialist, both grew up on peanut farms," Ginn said.

Consultants from Birdsong Peanuts and Clint Williams Peanuts in Madrill, Okla., two peanut buyers, have also helped Rice during the planting and harvest season.

Ginn reported that several local farmers in Lawrence and Randolph counties have shown interest in the crop and are waiting to see the results of harvest.

"You have to have a good rotation system," said Ginn. "It's not something you can go wall-to-wall with like rice."

The crop must also be rotated at least every three years, which Rice plans to replace with corn.

So far, harvest has proven successful for Rice and his crop. When asked if he looks for a particular yield per acre he responded, "Get all you can get."

Rice and his helper, Danny Womble of College Station, Tenn., are expecting two tons per acre.

"It all depends on how good your ground is, rain and if your field is irrigated," said Rice. "It can go up and down, but I think my yield ratio will be good this year."

The 525 acres of runner-type peanuts will be sold to Birdsong Peanuts and Clint Williams Peanuts.

Once the peanuts are shipped to Birdsong Peanuts, they will be checked for moisture and graded by United States Department of Agriculture standards. If the moisture is too high, they will be dried then sent to a shelling plant in Blakely, Ga., and used for peanut butter.

Clint Williams Peanuts will also compare the peanuts to USDA standards and eventually they will be used in candy.

"The hiolayic peanuts will be used in candy bars because of their oil content, which stores better in a candy bar," Rice said. "The peanut stays fresher longer."

Rice also plans to harvest the peanut vine, which has been shown to have higher protein levels than alfafa.

"Several farmers have problems with leaves shattering when bailing alfafa, and the peanut vine is not nearly as bad," said Rice.

"Rice has done a great job in growing this crop of peanuts," Ginn said. "This has the potential to make a great crop for our area."

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