In the process of touring a landowner’s property, they mentioned that they were looking to have the property start paying its way a little bit and they had cleared and stumped a good portion of it to put a crop in. When I inquired as to what they were thinking of planting, they told me they had decided on perennial peanuts. Now I absolutely love boiled peanuts, and so I hastily dashed past the word perennial and anchored down on peanuts. Visions of great Saturday football games, memories of little country stores with the little brown bags by the register, and the aroma of oily, salty goodness danced through my head. However, a few more sentences passed between us and I began to realize that we weren’t talking about the same crop. This wasn’t the delicacy that my grandfather lovingly referred to as “Goobers” but rather something altogether different.
What are Perennial Peanuts?
Like me, you may not have heard of Perennial Peanuts before as they are regarded as somewhat of a secret to those generally outside of Florida and South Georgia or the equestrian community. While it’s a relative of the edible peanut we know and love, it’s prized not for what’s growing below the soil surface but rather for what’s growing above it. Perennial Peanuts are primarily grown as forage for livestock, especially for horses, due to their nutritive similarity to alfalfa. It’s native to South America but is well suited to growing in the climate and sandy well-drained soil conditions that you find in portions of Florida and other southern states.
Why Should I Consider Perennial Peanuts?
Perennial peanuts will grow where other hays will not in the Southeast and it can be hayed twice a year or grazed continuously if carefully managed. Additionally, once established it will last 20 to 30 years and is not dependent on fertilizer and pesticides to be maintained. As noted earlier, many horse owners substitute perennial peanuts for alfalfa but less well known is that it’s also excellent for cows. It has enough nutritive value to promote a weight gain of 2 pounds per day in stocker cattle without supplements and has been shown to finish steers with quality grades comparable to feedlot-finished cattle. So, if your farm or ranch is in Florida or the coastal plain in the Southeast and you have difficulty growing more traditional grass hays (alfalfa, timothy, or orchard grass) and you typically have to buy hay from elsewhere, then perennial peanuts might be worth a look. For those without livestock, it might be a good income option for acreage that is not being actively cultivated or used for pasture as it will reliably produce dry-matter yields ranging between 3–6 ton/acre.
Establishment of Perennial Peanuts
If you are looking to start producing perennial peanuts on your property, whether for hay production or for grazing, you will need to get it established. Rather than planting seed as you would with many other crops, perennial peanuts are established by transplanting or sprigging rhizomes. Rhizomes are horizontal underground plant stems that spread out laterally to build an extended root system and shoot up to produce new plants. Some growers start by cultivating a small 1-5 acre nursery of rhizomes and then steadily increase their established acreage while others opt to have the entire planned acreage sprigged with rhizomes. Regardless, the recommended time of year to start establishment is usually late winter (the landowner I spoke with in North Florida was planning for January-February) or late summer. As with any other crop, there is some site preparation required and it does take some time to get established. In fact, the likely reason more landowners don’t grow perennial peanuts is that it’s a long-term investment where it may take a few years of development before you see meaningful production. However, in light of how well it does once it does get established it may pay to stay the course and reap the benefits of reliable hay and pasture!
For additional information on perennial peanuts, you can consult any one of several regional university agricultural departments, such as the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences as well as the Perennial Peanut Producer’s Association. The Perennial Peanut Producer’s Association has numerous links and resources to draw upon to include a membership list of farms/companies to procure planting materials (rhizomes) and hay.