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Field Day Explores Organic Peanuts, a Huge Opportunity for Georgia Farmers

On July 15, Georgia Organics and Coastal Organic Growers are partnering to host an organic peanut production field day at Healthy Hollow Farms in Stilson. Until 1990, Healthy Hollow Farms was a conventional farm, but costs of farming and health concerns led Connie and Jimmy Hayes to convert to organic production. Currently, Healthy Hollow Farms is the only certified organic peanut farm in the state of Georgia.

Georgia is the number one peanut-producing state in the country. In 2012, Georgia produced nearly 50 percent of the 6.7 billion pound peanut production total for the United States. But less than one percent of organic peanuts are produced in the state, the majority of organic peanut production is in the Southwest. With Georgia as the leading peanut production state and the demand for organic peanuts rising, it only makes sense that the amount of organic peanut production in Georgia will increase as well.C&J 72pix

Despite the market opportunity for Georgia peanut farmers, organic production has many challenges.

“The biggest challenge is getting a stand without seed treatment,” said Connie Hayes of Healthy Hollow Farms. “Seeds sprout because microbes break them down, but with a root crop like peanuts, those same microbes can create conditions to allow pathogens to enter, thus causing the seed not to sprout. We desperately need a product that’s safe and allowed by the NOP to treat peanut seed. They have organic seed inoculants for other crops, but not peanuts.”

Although there is a lack of certified organic peanut seed treatments, there is development of peanut varieties that can be used, untreated, in organic production. Dr. Albert Culbreath, who is presenting at the organic peanut field day, is a professor at the University of Georgia in the department of plant pathology. Culbreath’s research focuses on partial plant resistance used along with different cultural practices to reduce occurrence of foliar fungal diseases and tomato spotted wilt virus.

Recently, Culbreath has worked with the still experimental breeding line CRSP 192T, which was planted this season at Healthy Hollow Farm. This variety, developed by Dr. Roy Pittman and Dr. Jim Todd, is an early maturing variety with partial resistance to tomato spotted wilt virus and to early and late leaf spot diseases.

Another concern for organic peanut producers is weed control. Conventional growers rely on herbicides to manage weeds, but organic producers don’t use chemical weed controls. Dr. Carroll Johnson, who studies weed control primarily in organic systems with USDA Agricultural Research Service, will also be speaking at the organic peanut field day. Johnson’s research has shown that through methods of mechanical cultivation, weed management in organic peanut production is possible. Johnson’s research of mechanical and cultural practices in organic peanut systems indicates that there are realistic and cost-effective methods for weed control. Seeding rate, row pattern, and mechanical cultivation are all factors that contribute to a successful weed management plan.

Presentations by Hayes, Johnson, and Culbreath at the organic peanut field day will not only address the challenges for organic peanut producers, but the opportunity.

“In 2012, we produced a yield that matched the state average,” Hayes said. “There is more demand [for organic peanuts] than we can even produce.”

Attending the organic peanut production workshop will be extension agents and NRCS representatives, fellow researchers, both organic and conventional growers, market representatives, and more. Watch the Georgia Organics Field Trip Video on Organic Peanut Production for a preview of Healthy Hollow Farms’ organic peanut operation. To register for the field day and to learn more, click here.

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