Revised April 2022
Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) are an important food crop grown widely in the tropics and warmer temperate regions of the world. Peanuts originated from South America but are now grown in many regions of the world. The name “peanut” is misleading, because it is not botanically a true nut, but rather a legume. Peanuts are also called groundnuts in many English-speaking countries because the edible seeds of a peanut plant start above ground but mature underground. China and India are the largest producers of peanuts and they are regionally important in West Africa and several countries in eastern and southern Africa and the Americas. Though not considered a staple food in the diets of most consumers, peanuts can be an important source of nutrients, including protein and oil in some regions of the world. Peanuts are consumed as a whole nut snack, a component of confections and sauces to accompany other foods, peanut butter and oil.
Production in the U.S.
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 non-food 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. Currently, 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. Though research has shown that peanuts may be successfully grown in more northern states with careful selection of the cultivar planted, yields tend to be low and the production risky due to the short growing season (too few growing degree days). Total U.S. peanut production in 2021 measured 6.4 billion pounds from 1.59 million acres. The average yield in 2021 was 4,135 lb per acre. (NASS 2022).
There are four market types of peanuts grown commercially in the United States: 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 considered to have the most pronounced nutty flavor of the commercially produced peanuts due to higher oil content, are commonly grown in Oklahoma and Texas. They comprise about four percent of the national crop. Valencia peanuts, raised almost exclusively in New Mexico, comprise about one percent of the crop. These peanuts are usually roasted and sold in their shells as well as used for all-natural peanut butter.
Peanuts are most productive when grown in well-drained soils. They are well adapted to sandy soils provided there is adequate rainfall or irrigation. Growing one or more crops between each crop of peanuts is highly recommended. Longer rotations and those that avoid soybeans, as soybeans can host important diseases of peanuts, results in significant yield improvements. When peanuts are grown under irrigation the most critical period to avoid water stress is during mid-season nut development. Not only can yield be impacted significantly due to stress during this period, it is the period of greatest water use by the crop. Irrigating early in the season and during peanut maturity, are generally not recommended.
There are many pests and diseases that affect peanut production and an integrated pest management program for their control is recommended in order to reduce costs and manage the build of resistance in these pests to the pesticides applied. Rotation, variety selection and intensive scouting are key components of an effective integrated management program. Variety trial results from state extension programs can be a valuable tool in selecting varieties that are both high yielding and resistant to important pests and diseases. Peanuts should be carefully monitored for their readiness for harvest as harvest timing can impact both the yield and quality. Peanuts are first dug and then allowed to dry, optimally to about 10% moisture, before they are combined. Freshly combined peanuts are usually placed in a peanut wagon where they are further cured with forced warm air.
Peanuts grown in the U.S. are used for peanut butter, peanut oil, confections and direct consumption. About 60% of the peanuts are used for peanut butter production. About 15% of the crop is crushed for oil, which produces cake and meal as byproducts.
Roasted peanuts stay in the shell and are roasted. Roasted peanuts are not only a favorite snack enjoyed at baseball games, they can be used in nut mixes, coated with honey, chili or or other flavors, as well as used to create candies (peanut brittles) and other confections (cookies, ice creams). Some roasted peanuts are exported.
Peanut processors prepare the raw peanuts for use by food companies. Peanuts are sorted by variety, size or flavor. Food companies will use these processed peanuts for peanut butter, peanut candy and peanut snacks. Some food manufacturers that have their own processing facilities purchase raw peanuts directly that they will then process and use in the manufacture of their peanut-based products.
Raw peanuts are crushed to obtain peanut oil. 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. Peanut oil is high in monounsaturated fat and considered a heart-healthy fat. Refined peanut oil does not pose a risk when consumed by someone with an allergy to peanuts.
Peanut flour is made from crushed peanuts and can be partially or fully defatted. The flour is gluten-free and is an excellent source of protein. The flour can be used to thicken soups, fortify breads and pastries, and coat meats and fish. It can also be used to make powdered peanut butter.
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. 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. However, given the high input costs of raising peanuts and strong market demand for traditional uses, using good quality peanuts for oil for use in making biodiesel may not be the most profitable market.
There is a small but potentially highly profitable market for fresh “green” (not dried) peanuts that are used to produce a regionally important snack called boiled peanuts. 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 are curious to try boiled peanuts; therefore, selling fresh peanuts online as a specialty product to outside regions can add value to an intensively managed peanut crop.
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. Customers purchasing fresh peanuts have a preference for bright hulls with little to no damage, thus the crop is frequently hand-harvested.
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.
A helpful enterprise budget for peanuts production for 2022 for both irrigated and dryland production scenarios can be found at: 2022 Peanut Budgets, University of University of Georgia.
Crop Production Annual Summary, 2022, USDA National Ag Statistics Service (NASS), 2021.
Global Ag Trade System, 2021, Foreign Ag Service (FAS), USDA.
Green Peanuts and Dried Peanuts, 2013, Boiled Peanut World.
How Peanuts Grow, 2021, National Peanut Board.
Peanut Marketing Assistance Loans and Loan Deficiency Payments, 2015, USDA – Farm Service Agency (FSA).
Peanut Products, 2021, The Peanut Institute.
Peanut Types, 2021, National Peanut Board.
Production of Biofuel Crops in Florida: Peanut, 2010, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.
The Peanut Industry – Peanuts: a Brief History, 2020, American Peanut Council.
Producing Peanuts for the Fresh (Green/Boiling) Market, 2017, University of Florida Extension.
Peanuts, University of Georgia.
Peanut Production, University of Florida Extension