Peanut pod blasting at the Levy County Extension office

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Special to the Citizen
Last spring, Levy County Master Gardener coordinator, Barbara Edmonds, mentioned that the most curious among us might be interested in how the local extension office assists the tri-county farmers with their watermelon and peanut crop harvests.
This June, Alvin Wilkerson, agriculture technician, was kind enough to allow several of us to look over his shoulder while he determined the petiole sap concentrations of nitrate and potassium necessary to figure out the proper fertilization requirements for the watermelon crop.  
Fascinating. That’s information worthy of an article at another time. But for now, it’s peanut time.
Here's some peanut trivia for you:
• The peanut is native to South America
• By the time America was discovered by Columbus, peanuts were already growing throughout the warmer regions of the Americas.
• Peanuts are now grown in Africa and Asia, as well.
• Peanuts are dehiscent legumes that are harvested from below the soil.
Peanut flowers form close to the base of the plant and after self pollination the flower stalk drops down and is forced underground where the pod forms. Peanuts are indeterminate plants--they continue to set new pods as the older ones mature, making deciding optimum harvest dates one of the biggest challenges for the grower. Errors in harvest times can mean many thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
Peanuts are planted in the spring and depending on the variety and growing conditions, require approximately 125 to 155 days to mature. Because they grow under the ground, a method had to be found to estimate the optimum dig date - allowing 2-3 days to "air dry" after they have been turned upside down.
Sherry Harmon, my husband, Lamar, and I went over to the extension office to watch the “peanut blasting” that Anthony Barbaglia, interim agriculture agent, and Alvin Wilkerson complete to assist the farmers with that estimation.  Barbara Edmonds had given us some of the facts about the process beforehand, but seeing is believing.
Long before we arrived, growers brought samples from each field of plants approximately 95 to 125 days old (depending on variety) to the Extension office for processing. Peanut pods are placed in a wire mesh cage that sits in a large bucket with holes in the bottom. Using a pressure washer, the outer cork like layer of the hull is removed as it they rotated against the abrasive wire mesh. The resulting washed hulls were an array of colors from almost white to black. Kept moist, all the samples were carefully labeled according to grower, location, variety, & planting dates and set aside for their turn in the profiling process.
Immature peanuts have the lightest color hulls and progress through the yellows, oranges and browns to the most mature, which are black. The samples must be kept moist throughout the profiling process to assure proper evaluation of maturity. This process is not as simple as it sounds. When holding the pod for examination, with the beak turned downward, the middle hull color at the attachment point, or indented (saddle or belly) area of the pod, should match the color  on the chart. The samples are then arranged on the chart and from this data the number of days until digging in needed can be determined.
This labor intensive process is happily made easier by the readily available snacks in the waiting bucket. But I digress.
The Hull-Scrape Maturity Profile Chart is used to determine the maturity. This process is repeated weekly at the extension office throughout the peanut growing season, until the peanut harvest is well underway. Any variations in the field, chlorosis (leaf yellowing), fungal issues, disease, weed and insect issues require further field visits.
Without this evaluation method famers have to gather their samples and with a pocket knife scrape the outer hull away to see that tell-tail belly and together with the planting dates make an educated guess. Old hands at the peanut growing business could probably do this in their sleep but pity the newcomers.
Watching this process has given us a deeper appreciation for the commitment of UF/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) and our county extension, to the communities that depend on the success of our farmers and agriculture based industries. Thank you growers, Anthony and Alvin.