North Alabama soils have been popular for growing two underground crops: Irish and sweet potatoes. Growers there are giving a hard look at a third underground crop: peanuts.
Blount County farmer Jimmy Miller, who farms near Snead with his nephew Lance, has been growing the goobers successfully for the last nine years.
“There is no row crop comparable to peanuts. Peanuts are three times more profitable than any row crop I’ve grown lately. Peanut was even three times more profitable than two-bale cotton. We don’t plan on planting any small grains, soybeans or corn next year (in 2018) only peanuts and cotton," he said.
In 2017, Jimmy grossed $1,650 an acre on peanuts while his production costs, both variable and fixed were around $600 per acre, he said.
The Millers, who are entirely dry land, have a nine-year proven average yield of 5,200 pounds per acre. In 2017, Jimmy averaged 6,824 pounds per acre, comparable to the best-irrigated yields anywhere in the world. Lance got caught by rain at harvest, which hurt his yield, but he still averaged 5,262 pounds per acre. Together they had an overall yield of 6,284 pounds per acre.
The Millers’ two worst peanut years were 2016 and 2009.
“Last year (2016) was our worst year because of the drought. We still averaged 4,600 pounds per acre but we wasted about 500 pounds per acre because the ground was so hard during digging and the peanuts were pulling off in the clods. Even with the very wet fall in 2009, we averaged over 5,000 pounds per acre,” Miller said.
2016, due to the drought, was also the first time they had any peanuts grade Seg 3 for aflatoxin peanuts.
Another advantage of peanuts is cotton performs much better behind peanuts than other row crops. This year the Millers had some of their best cotton planted behind peanuts. They had one field average almost four bales per acre, 1,940 pounds, and another average 1,600 pounds per acre.
Cherokee County farmer Nick McMichen is thrilled with his first peanut crop in 2017, despite the poor harvest conditions. He notes, “We averaged close to 6,000 pounds per acre on our harvested acres and overall the peanut grades and quality was excellent.”
Nick was also impressed by the low inputs needed to grow three-ton-per acre peanuts.
Peanuts are a scavenger for nutrients and rarely need to be fertilized. The virgin ground in north Alabama that have not grown peanuts are ideal for reduced fungicide applications and excellent yields if accompanied by timely rainfall. McMichen notes that peanuts were twice as profitable as his other row crops, even with his excellent dry land corn (240 bushels per acre) and cotton yields (some dry land fields did more than three bales per acre).
Nick plans to increase his peanut acreage by fifty percent in 2018.
“Peanut contracts will be lower next year (in 2018) by all indicators due to the huge U.S. crop this year (2017). Still, I will be able to take of the advantage of converting generic cotton acres into peanut base giving me a $535 per ton base on part of my production.”
Wootten Farm, on Sand Mountain in DeKalb County, were pleased with their yields and grades. Marty Wootten and his wife, Lorrie, grow corn, wheat and soybeans with their three sons, Jared, Hayden and Jamey. Their first dry land peanut field was right at 6,000 pounds per acre.
Jared, a fifth-generation farmer whose great-grandfather was one of the first farmers on Sand Mountain to grow Irish potatoes, says, “There is a lot more management involved in peanuts than other row crops. We are lucky that Daddy used to grow potatoes and was accustomed to the extra management that a crop like peanuts required.”
Jared said, “Timing is everything. We were late planting peanuts this year due to the rains in April and May. We didn’t start harvesting until the last week of October due to the late planting and rain during harvest. Harvest was extra work compared to other row crops. We had to run the digger around the clock to beat the freeze. Next year we are going to shoot for the last week of April to plant peanuts.”
The Millers, Woottens and McMichen all plant hi-oleic peanut varieties. Hi-oleic peanuts contain a higher amount of oleic acid compared to standard varieties. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid known as the good fat, reducing the amount of LDL (bad cholesterol) while boosting the levels of HDL (good cholesterol). The increase in oleic acid and the consequential drop in linoleic acid (polyunsaturated) means hi-oleic peanuts are less likely to go rancid and can last eight times longer than regular peanut varieties.
The peanut industry, especially candy companies, are trending to hi-oleic varieties and are willing to pay a premium. So these north Alabama growers are not only producing a profitable crop, they are producing a more-healthy crop for consumers.
Eddie McGriff is an Alabama Extension regional agent in northeast Alabama. He can be reached at 256-557-2375 or e-mailed at [email protected]