The average American consumes six pounds of peanut products every year, according to the National Peanut Board, which adds up to $4 billion of peanut production annually that contributes to the economy.
Research conducted at Texas Tech by Nithya Rajan, a post-doctoral research associate from Kerala, India, may cause those numbers to grow in future years. Rajan has begun to lay the foundation for future research on site specific management of these legumes.
“Our study focused on the biomass of peanuts and other growth characteristics such as canopy coverage, leaf area, yield and water stress — in general, how the peanut is growing,” she said. “A researcher and peanut breeder from New Mexico State University contacted us to do this study for her since we had the capabilities to do it. Not much research has been done in peanuts, especially here where research is mostly on corn or cotton, so we were very excited. Our work with remote sensing is some of the first for the peanut plant.”
Tech has two machines with the capabilities for remote sensing, which employs filters to block color wavelengths and produce better images of the plants. Rajan shot the images, which are taken at heights ranging from 3,000 degrees to 10,000 degrees of altitude, from a small aircraft provided and piloted by South Plains Precision Ag Inc.
“I took photographs from above, and we compared it to data in the field. Sometimes the tiny plane is scary, but we have a very good pilot and I trust him enough I’m not so terrified of flying,” she said with a laugh.
The research is focused on two areas this year: planting patterns and biomass, Rajan said. Peanuts can be planted in single rows, double rows or diagonal patterns, and researchers tried to find which was best suited for this region. The other study was in estimating the peanut biomass using remote sensing. Studies were conducted utilizing four varieties of peanuts — Gregory, Valencia C, FR 458 and Tamnut OL06 — but more than 90 varieties exist.
“Right now, it’s not a big project. We have three universities involved and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Essentially it revolves around observations in field studies and our remote sensing data, but we don’t have 20 sites around the state. It’s all concentrated on the one site here,” said Stephen Maas, a professor of agricultural microclimatology from Temple. “For producers who have to manage many large fields, it’s difficult to drive around the crops. Even if they could, they’re only seeing the edge. One advantage to the kind of work Nithya’s doing is that eventually farmers will be able to monitor the whole field more efficiently.”
Maas said he supervises Rajan’s work, but ultimately she’s out in the fields and in the plane; the work she does will economically benefit the producer, but it also will help the environment.
“Peanuts have problems with fungal diseases. Typically, these problems start in certain areas, but if the farmer doesn’t see them it will spread across the whole field. We’ve seen fields where every plant was dead due to a fungus,” Maas said. “Suppose the farmer could fly over the field and see where the problem was developing early. They could go in and stop it before it spreads, using less chemicals, pesticides and money to save more crops.”
A typical peanut field ranges from 100 acres to 200 acres, Rajan said. The ultimate goal is practicality for large farms in mass producing and maintaining plants using site specific management techniques. She plans to continue the study, next focusing on water stress, to procure data that will eventually help the region’s peanut production rise.