Ag Sense: Organic peanut production flourishes

Naveen Puppala: Ag Sense

Consumer preference has changed, and more and more people are buying organic products from the grocery stores.

In the United States, only 2 percent of the food supply is grown using organic methods. The reward for organic production can be high for those who make the effort. Valencia peanut growers earn about $1,000 per ton for organic peanuts compared to the conventional $550 per ton.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sales of organic products are increasing at a rate of 20 percent a year and it is the fastest growing sector of agriculture. The demand for organic peanuts is so high that every year it is difficult to meet the demand.

A short growing season, low humidity and the sandy nature of the soil makes perfect conditions in eastern New Mexico and West Texas for growing organic peanuts.

Roosevelt County ranks first in New Mexico in production of Valencia peanuts. Some organic growers’ yields are as good or even higher than those of conventional growers.

Most of the organic peanuts are processed for peanut butter, with far fewer sold, whether in-shell or shelled, for candy companies.

New Mexico, Texas and Georgia are the only three states that grow organic peanuts on a commercial scale. New Mexico ranks first in producing 25 million pounds of organic peanuts on about 10,000 acres.

Average organic yields are about 2,500 pounds per acre, conservatively, but there are growers who produce 3,000 to 4,000 pounds per acre. The net profit for an average organic grower is $600 to $700 per ton. Input costs range from $300 to $400 per ton and the most expensive input cost is labor to hoe weeds.

For organic peanut certification, a grower needs to plan at least three years ahead before starting organic farming. A grower needs to stop applying synthetic chemicals to his farm at least three calendar years to achieve certification.

To become certified, a grower needs an application form, a registration fee and an inspection of the farm. Organic growers need to document all the operations they perform and be able to maintain good records of their farms, otherwise they can be turned down by an inspector.

In Curry, Roosevelt and Lea counties, organic peanut producers can supplement income by selling the forage from the peanuts to an organic dairy at $60 a bale.
The peanut breeding program at the Agricultural Science Center at Clovis will be screening germplasm from the U.S. Valencia Core Collection, which can grow faster as well as suppress weed growth.

Naveen Puppala is a peanut breeder at the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center at Clovis. He can be reached at 985-2292 or npuppala@nmsu.edu.