LUBBOCK, Texas – West Texas may be conducive to growing peanuts with it’s arid climate, but it can also pose challenging with unpredictable weather – especially during harvest. Peanut harvesting typically starts the first to middle of October with the first freeze happening around October 31st. This season has not been typical. The first freeze in Lubbock County happened on October 12th, just five days shy of the earliest freeze on record.
A freeze becomes a major concern for peanut farmers because it can kill the vine that is holding the peanut to the plant that allows farmers to pull it out of the ground. This would result in not being able to harvest the peanuts. If farmers have pulled the peanuts from the ground they have between 7 to 10 days depending on weather to get the peanuts from the digger through the combine and to the processing facility.
Peanut farmer Mason Becker of 4MB Farms says “The rule of thumb is 42 to 78 hours you don’t wanna have the peanut on top of the ground before freeze. If the moisture content in the peanut is high enough it will cause freeze damage and that degrades the flavor and texture in the peanut and it devalues the crop.”
Peanuts are extremely susceptible when they are on top of the ground and another weather predicament that can coincide with a freeze is hail, though rare it can occur in October.
The reason farmers want to leave the peanuts above ground is to field dry the crop, with the goal of getting the peanuts close to 10% moisture. This saves farmers a significant expense at the shelling facility where the peanuts have to sit on a drying trailer if they are above 10 ½% moisture.
“There is definitely a balance in trying to get the moisture right and getting the peanuts out of the field. You can get too dry.” Becker said, “You can cause problems with breaking peanuts and that cost us money and dockage coming from the shelling facility.”
Peanuts are a legume crop and are in the same family as beans, lentils and peas. Being a legume it fixates nitrogen from the atmosphere and can be put back into the soil after it has been harvested which benefits the soil and the next crop. It can also be bailed up and sold as cattle feed as it is really high in protein.
Crop rotation is very important to help prevent diseases that affect peanuts in West Texas. “We try not to plant peanuts on the same ground within a three or four year period.” Becker said, “We still have some pod rot issues and blight issues that can affect crops but for the most part if farmers are diligent and rotating and staying on top of the fungicide programs we don’t have that big of an issue.”
Although harvesting can be a difficult process Becker says they are almost over the hump if the dry conditions continue.