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Peanut pod blasting helps North Carolina farmers

The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service assists peanut farmers with determining the best time to dig their peanuts through a process called “pod blasting.”
Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 8:15 PM EDT
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AYDEN, N.C. (WITN) - For peanut farmers in North Carolina, knowing when to dig their peanuts is one of the most important decisions they’ll make in September, when peanuts change color, signifying their maturity, in about a week.

In Pitt County, the average week of digging peanuts is the last week in September, but what the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service discovered is that there’s a great variation in terms of when that will occur, according to extension agent Mitch Smith.

“We’re just starting to see fields here in the middle of September ready to be dug, whereas other fields, we have 21 days remaining. There’s a great spectrum by which to choose a digging date, this process helps to solve that mystery.”

Mitch Smith, extension agent

The key is a process called “pod blasting,” which cleans a sample set of 150 pods using a high pressure washer equipped with a turbo nozzle, according to the NCCES.

The color of the inner shell is revealed, from white to dark brown and black, which indicates when the best time to dig is.

The sample of peanuts is then placed on a chart called the “peanut profile chart,” which is used to estimate when the optimal maturity of a peanut field will occur, according to the NCCES.

“Because peanuts are an indeterminate crop, they will not all achieve a brown and black color, so there’s gonna be a variation in the color blend when you put the pods on the chart. The goal is to capture the darker brown and black peanuts because that is an indication that the mystery has been solved: It’s time to dig.”

Mitch Smith

For farmers, watching the above ground growth of a crop doesn’t always provide a good indication of when peanuts are ready to be harvested. If picked at the wrong time, it can affect quality, yield and the money a farmer makes.

The peanut profile chart is used to estimate when the optimum maturity of a peanut field will...
The peanut profile chart is used to estimate when the optimum maturity of a peanut field will occur, according to NCCES.(NCCES)

“For a farmer, when about 60 to 65 percent of your peanuts reach the brown-to-black category, that fraction, that tells you that it’s time to begin the digging process. This process is really so important because by determining the exact time to dig, you really can optimize profit. You’re a farmer, so there’s a lot of interest in this process and therefore, we have a lot of samples being brought in to determine when that decision is best made.”

Mitch Smith

Digging too early or digging too late can result in a loss of 10 percent of the final yield of a crop, according to the NCCES.

Summer in Eastern North Carolina means we’re always five days away from a drought to farmers, so Smith said rainfall is important to keep the colors moving.

Peanut butter consumption is at an all-time high right now, according to Smith, who believes it started when the COVID-19 pandemic began with a lot of people staying at home.

Smith added 2020 was an “off-year” for peanut production, so pod blasting is especially important in 2021 to meet the demand.

This year marks the highest per capita consumption of peanuts at 7.9 pounds and Smith expects it to continue to increase.

Previous efforts to assist peanut farmers in North Carolina resulted in an annual potential profit of $2.5 million, according to the NCCES.

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