Farms are places of year-round activity. There is almost always something going on, regardless of the season. Each month we highlight one of our research stations and the work taking place on the farm during that month as well as give a little insight into the world of farming and innovative agricultural research.
There are 18 research stations across the state, operated in partnership between the department, N.C. State University and N.C. A&T State University. The stations are strategically located to account for different soil types, climates, crops and livestock production. Department staff manage the day-to-day operations of the stations and the research field work, while researchers from the universities set up the parameters of the research. This month we are highlighting the Peanut Belt Research Station in Lewiston-Woodville.
October is a busy time at the Peanut Belt Research Station. One might even say that it’s nuts. That’s because most of the station’s 67 acres of peanuts are harvested in October. This station has made a name for itself in the peanut industry. Since 1959, 14 peanut varieties have been released from this station, including all peanut varieties released by N.C. State University in the last 20 years.
Most peanuts at the station are grown for breeding trials. The work focuses on breeding peanuts for better yields, disease and insect resistance, appearance and taste. “Our breeding trial researchers often harvest by hand to maintain the purity of the seed since combines mix seed a bit from one plot to another,” said Tommy Corbett, station manager. “The researcher saves these seeds for future trials.” There are about 300 to 500 new lines of breeding trials every year and about 150 advance lines in research, too. It can take dozens of breeding trials and 10 to 14 years to release a new variety.
The station hires about 15 temporary employees in the fall to help with peanut harvest. Peanuts are prepared for harvest with a peanut digger, which digs up the first 3 or 4 inches of soil where the peanuts are found, shakes the dirt off of the peanuts and then inverts them so they can dry out in the field. After a few days of drying out, a peanut combine harvests the peanuts. “Harvesting takes a lot of time because we work in plots,” Corbett said. “We have two row plots that we pick, bag and tag and then we have to clean out our machine to do another plot. The station has more than 10,000 plots.
Seeds from the breeding trials are stored in 50-pound bags and saved in a freezer for the next season. Peanut seeds do not keep for a long time, the most is about three years. The station also stores seeds for other crops grown at the station in the freezer.
After harvest, the peanuts are picked up by BirdSong Peanuts to be graded and sold. Eighty percent of the peanuts grown in North Carolina are Virginia-type peanuts. These peanuts are the ones most often sold in the shell, as cocktail peanuts and at baseball games. In 2012, Bertie, Martin and Halifax were North Carolina’s leading peanut producing counties with almost 110 million pounds of peanuts harvested. North Carolina ranks 4th in the nation in peanuts and has about 5,000 peanut farmers.
The Peanut Belt Research Station holds a Peanut Field Day the first Thursday after Labor Day each year. In addition to peanuts, the station does research on cotton, corn, sorghum and soybeans, with about 75 acres of cotton harvested during October.