Revised October, 2018.
Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) are thought to have originated in South America, where they thrive in tropical and subtropical climates (American Peanut Council, 2014). The name “peanut” is misleading, because it is not botanically a nut, but rather a legume (a member of the pea and bean family). The edible seeds of a peanut plant start above ground but mature underground; thus peanuts are also known as groundnuts (National Peanut Board, 2015).
In the United States, peanuts were considered a regional food of the South until after the Civil War, when technological advancements resulted in an increased demand for peanut oil, peanut butter, roasted and salted peanuts, and confections. In addition, the noted scientist George Washington Carver identified numerous manufactured nonfood uses for the peanut and plant parts and encouraged plantings of peanuts as a rotational crop for cotton production, which expanded acreage in the early 1900s (American Peanut Council, 2014).
Peanuts are planted after the last frost, usually in April or May. Harvesting takes place roughly 120-160 days after planting, thus the marketing season for fresh “green” (not dried) peanuts is often during September and October. Peanuts that have been dried or processed have a much longer shelf life, thus a longer marketing season (Wright et al, 2014) (National Peanut Board, 2015).
The majority of peanut crops get processed in some manner before reaching customers; however, there is a market for fresh peanuts (also known as boiling peanuts, as this is how they are commonly processed after purchase). Due to their high moisture content, fresh peanuts cannot be stored long-term (10-14 days); therefore they are usually sold within their growing region at supermarkets, roadside stands, and/or farmers’ markets. Less often fresh peanuts are sold through online retailers who usually require two-day shipping due to their perishability (Boiled Peanut World, 2013). Customers purchasing fresh peanuts have a preference for bright hulls with little to no damage, thus the crop needs to be hand harvested (Wright et al, 2014).
Extensive and thorough pre-planning is required if farmers decide to market their peanut crop as “fresh.” They must find an intended market before establishing their crop. Production for fresh market peanuts is virtually the same as other peanut crops, with the exception of harvesting and post-harvesting practices and varieties used. Customers tend to prefer Valencia and Virginia varieties when purchasing fresh peanuts due to their taste and size respectively (Wright et al, 2014).
Boiled peanuts are a common snack throughout much of the South (the predominant growing region for peanuts). However, Southerners now living outside of the region and new consumers want to have and are curious to try boiled peanuts; therefore selling fresh peanuts online as a specialty product to outside regions can add value to your crop (Orchant, 2014).
Processing peanuts is another way value can be added to your crop. Peanuts can be processed into multiple products:
Roasted peanuts are not only a favorite snack enjoyed at baseball games, they can be used in nut mixes, coated with honey, chili or smoked, as well as used to create candies (peanut brittles) and other confections (cookies, ice creams) (Hampton Farms, 2016).
Prepared from roasted peanuts, peanut butter can be eaten as is or added to a variety of recipes. Whether fresh or processed, peanuts are nutritious and are associated with health benefits: they are high in protein, contain healthy oils that can lower the risk of heart disease, and have a low glycemic index which can help decrease the risk for Type 2 diabetes (The Peanut Institute, 2016).
Because refined peanut oil does not absorb food flavors and has a high smoke point, it is the frying oil preferred by many restaurants. Unrefined peanut oil is a popular choice for salad dressings, roasting vegetables and other uses where healthy, but flavorful, oil is desired (The Peanut Institute, 2016).
Defatted roasted peanut flour is a gluten-free source of protein. The flour can be used to thicken soups, fortify breads and pastries, and coat meats and fish (The Peanut Institute, 2016).
Peanuts have a high oil content (45 percent to 52 percent) compared to several other oilseed crops. With a yield of 3,000 pounds per acre, a 70 grade (70 percent of the weight of the peanut in shell) and 50 percent oil content, peanuts could potentially produce 120 to 150 gallons of biodiesel per acre. However, growers using good management practices can achieve a yield of 3,500-4,500 pounds of peanuts per acre, therefore the potential to produce even more biodiesel per acre is possible (University of Florida, 2010). The yield of oil from peanuts is much higher than that of soybeans at 48 gallons per acre but lower than that of rapeseed, which yields between 127-160 gallons per acre (Herkes, 2014).
Peanut production is concentrated in three major geographic areas of the United States: the Southeast (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina), the Southwest (New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas) and Virginia and North Carolina (NASS, 2015).
The four types of peanuts grown commercially in the United States are the runner, Virginia, Spanish and Valencia. The runner type, which is used mainly for peanut butter, is the primary commercial peanut raised. This type makes up 80 percent of the country’s planted acreage, mostly in the Southeast. The Virginia type, grown mainly in Virginia and North Carolina for gourmet snacks, provides 15 percent of the U.S. crop. Spanish peanuts, which are commonly grown in Oklahoma and Texas, are said to have the most pronounced nutty flavor of the commercial peanuts due to higher oil content, and provide 4 percent of the national crop. Valencia peanuts, raised almost exclusively in New Mexico, provide 1 percent of the crop. These peanuts are usually roasted and sold in their shells as well as used for all-natural peanut butter (National Peanut Board, 2014).
Total U.S. peanut production in 2017 measured 7.2 billion pounds. This is an increase from 5.6 billion pounds the previous year. In 2017, peanut yields were 4,072 pounds per acre, up slightly from the previous year (NASS 2018).
According to Jay Chapin from Clemson University, there are five key elements for producing a successful commercial size crop of peanuts:
1. The land must have well drained soil.
2. Suitable rotation crops must be used.
3. Timely watering must be given during pod fill.
4. There must be good harvest weather.
5. Proper time management of the crop is crucial (especially when and how the peanuts are dug/harvested).
“More money is made or lost with digging decisions than any other aspect of peanut production,” Chapin says Farmers should never dig their peanut crop solely based off of the days-after-planted (DAP) timeline, he says. However, the DAP can be used as a guideline for mapping out spot checks to determine crop maturity. (Chapin, 2015).
Helpful enterprise budget for peanuts:
Crop Production Annual Summary, National Ag Statistics Service (NASS), USDA, 2018.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Statistics Division (FAOSTAT), 2013. Click Item as Groundnuts with shell, Area as United States, and From Year 2013 To Year 2013..
Global Ag Trade System, Foreign Ag Service (FAS), USDA, 2015.
Green Peanuts and Dried Peanuts, Boiled Peanut World, 2013.
Herkes, J., Rapeseed and Canola for Biodiesel Production, Extension.org, 2014.
How Peanuts Grow, National Peanut Board, 2015.
Boiled Peanuts: The Southern Snack We Adore, The Huffington Post, 2014.
Our Products, Hampton Farms, 2016.
Peanut Marketing Assistance Loans and Loan Deficiency Payments, USDA – Farm Service Agency (FSA), 2015.
Peanut Products, The Peanut Institute, 2016.
Peanut Types, National Peanut Board, 2014.
Production of Biofuel Crops in Florida: Peanut, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, 2010.
The Peanut Industry – Peanuts: a Brief History, American Peanut Council, 2014.
Wright et al, Producing Peanuts for the Fresh (Green/Boiling) Market, University of Florida, 2014.