Texas is the fourth largest peanut producing state in the nation. Last year, state peanut farmers planted approximately 117,000 acres and produced nearly 433 million pounds of peanuts.
In 2008, Texas peanut farmers produced 860 million pounds of peanuts on 257,000 acres, making it the largest crop in the state's history.
The Texas peanut industry is worth more than $1 billion to the state's economy. Peanut farmers, shellers, equipment dealers, manufacturers and labor make up a portion of the industry that has become so valuable to Texas.
The most widely consumed variety, Runner peanuts have delicious flavor, great roasting characteristics and high yields - making them the most widely consumed variety of peanuts. This medium-sized peanut is an ideal choice for use in peanut butters. Runner peanuts are grown in Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Oklahoma due to their need for a warm climate and sandy, well-drained soil.
Spanish peanuts are used mostly in peanut candies, peanut snacks and peanut butter. This peanut is easily identified by its smaller kernels and its redish-brown skin. It also has a high oil content, which makes it an excellent choice for extracting oil. Spanish peanuts are grown mostly in Texas and Oklahoma.
Valencia peanuts are a sweet peanut with a bright red skin. This peanut usually contains three or more kernels in a longer shell. Valencia peanuts are mostly served roasted and sold inshell or boiled. While grown less frequently in the United States, its primary production is in New Mexico.
Often called “cocktail nuts,” Virginia peanuts are considered large-kernelled. Its size makes it great for processing, particularly for salting, confections and inshell roasting. Virginia peanuts are primarily grown in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.
How Peanuts are Grown
Despite having "nut" in its name - peanuts are NOT actually nuts at all, they're a legume!
Peanut seeds (kernels) grow into a green oval-leafed plant about 18 inches tall. This plant develops yellow flowers around its lower portion. The flowers pollinate and then lose their petals as the fertilized ovary begins to enlarge. The budding ovary or "peg" grows down away from the plant, extending into the soil. The peanut embryo turns horizontal to the soil surface and begins to mature, taking the form of the peanut. From planting to harvesting, the growing cycle takes four to five months, depending on the type or variety.
Peanuts are planted late in the spring, when there is no risk of frost. This is usually in April or May when the soil temperatures reach 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Seeds are planted 1.5- to 2-inches deep, and about 2- to 4-inches apart. The row spacing is largely determined by the type of planting and harvest equipment the farmer uses.
When the peanut plant has matured, it's time for the farmer to harvest their crop. In Texas, this is usually in October or November. This time frame can vary based on the variety and line of peanut planted, and its individual maturation rate.
There are two steps required to harvest peanuts, digging and thrashing.
When approximately 70 percent of a farmer's crop is mature and an optimum soil moisture level is reached, farmers must dig the plant out of the ground. The farmer's equipment will gently loosen the plant, lift it from the soil, shake the soil from the peanut pods, and invert the plant - exposing the pods to the sun. The farmer then leaves the crop to dry in the sun for several days.
Once the peanuts have had the opportunity to dry, the farmer comes back and harvests his crop with a peanut combine, commonly known as a thrasher. The thrasher separates the peanut pods from the vines, and places the pods into a hopper.
Some operations then place the freshly harvested peanut pods in drying wagons for further curing - this reduces moisture content to 8-10 percent.
Once the curing process is complete, the peanut crop is taken to the shelling facility.
Upon its arrival to the shelling facility, the farmer's stock peanuts (harvested peanuts that haven't been shelled, cleaned or crushed) are inspected and graded to determine its quality and value.
The peanuts then move through the shelling process where they are cleaned, de-hulled and sorted.
Peanuts grown for inshell use (usually Virginias and Valencias) are sorted by size and stems are removed, and then they are further screened for quality so only the most mature, brightest pods remain for consumer use.