We hope you are all well in spite of the challenges we all are facing. It has been a difficult year in many regards. This includes trying to plan a tour for a large group of people to travel together, eat together, visit numerous facilities, etc., all while maintaining strict social distancing and safety precautions. We love hosting the Georgia Peanut Tour, and were determined to try and make it happen. However, as planning progressed, it became apparent that the prudent option would be to cancel the 2020 Georgia Peanut Tour. This was not an easy decision, but I am confident it was the right decision. At this point we will table our plans to go to Southwest Georgia, and hopefully will be there in September of 2021. In the meantime, we will work hard to still produce a great crop of high-quality Georgia peanuts, and we look forward to you joining us next year!
Be safe, and eat more peanuts!
Georgia Peanut Tour Committee Chairman
The final stop on the 2019 Georgia Peanut Tour brought attendees to the peanut boiling operation of Hardy Farms Peanuts in Hawkinsville, Ga. Boiled peanuts are affectionately known by many as “The Country Caviar.”
The Hardy family has been growing peanuts in the heartland of Georgia for over 70 years. Our growers are part of a multi-generational legacy with experience being handed down from one generation to the next.
Peanut farming began in the mid 1900s for the Hardy family when patriarch, Norman Hardy began farming after returning from the war. He ran a multi-crop farm and livestock operation in the heart of Dodge County. When Mr. Norman unexpectedly passed in 1977 at the age of 57, his sons, Alex, Kenneth and Randy, along with their cousin Terry partnered up to transform the family operation. At the time, the Hardy clan faced agricultural industry hardships during a decade of droughts and low commodity prices.
With innovative thinking and minds focused on mitigating crop losses, the Hardy relatives formed a production business for green peanut sales in 1991, well-known today as Hardy Farms Peanuts. The company focused on selling and marketing green peanuts exclusively until the addition of cousins Brad and Ken Hardy, sons of brothers Alex and Kenneth Hardy to the family business in the late 1990s. Brad and Ken focused their efforts on the production and growth of the boiled peanut market for the family business. The Hardy Farms Peanuts brand recognition grew significantly throughout Middle Georgia with the growth of its road-side retail stands in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Today, six members of the Hardy clan manage Hardy Farms Peanuts. That includes Alex Hardy, his son Brad, brother Kenneth Hardy, his son Ken, brother Randy Hardy and cousin Terry Shadix.
Hardy Farms is a leading producer of fresh green and boiled peanuts. They produce over 5 million pounds of green and boiled peanuts annually, that are sold all over the United States. Now with over 25 roadside retail locations throughout Middle Georgia and supermarket presence throughout the southeastern U.S., Hardy Farms peanuts are readily available to anyone craving the true country caviar.
Also, the market for oil and dry roasted peanuts is global. In 2014, cousins Brad Hardy and Ken Hardy, elevated the family business to include the production of oil and dry roasted peanuts with the opening of their roasting plant. Hardy Farms Roasting can produce up to 3,000 pounds of oil and dry roasted peanuts an hour. The company does private label packaging and bulk packaging for commercial companies who use it in their products. It also launched its own retail brand – Party Peanuts by Hardy’s Peanuts Inc. – in four flavors: Simply Salted, Sweet Southern Sriracha, Delicious Dill Pickle and Crushed Black Pepper.
The Georgia Peanut Tour introduced an on-farm precision agriculture stop at Dawson Brothers Farms in Hawkinsville, Georgia. During the visit Jason Thomas with John Deere and Dusty Engel with Lasseter Equipment Group LLC showcased several pieces of equipment used on the farm and explained their precision ag components.
This stop included most of the day to day precision ag equipment that is used on farms across the state of Georgia. While Dawson Brothers farms has a much larger fleet of equipment to display at this stop (including their own crop duster plane) this stop shows the level of integrated equipment used for the production of peanuts.
The first station on the stop included two John Deere eight thousand series tractors equipped with the newest John Deere 6000 GPS receivers. This receiver has only been available for two years, but it has been upgraded from the Star Fire 3000 receiver. The new Star Fire 6000 offers an increase in accuracy, a faster processor and a software update time to just three minutes compared to thirty minutes with the Star Fire 3000.
How it works: The Star Fire 6000 acquires RTK signal to keep the tractor on line and driving straight. RTK signal is the most accurate option offering sub inch accuracy from pass to pass. RTK accuracy is vital for our peanut farmers as they must use absolute precision when planting and digging peanuts to minimize damage to the crop. In a general sense, RTK signal is acquired from towers placed strategically around the state to get full coverage for farmers receivers to send and receive the signal. Another great thing about RTK is it offers the same accuracy year after year. This option gives farmers the capability to use the same lines after rotating a crop for a year or two and being able to return to the same line for that specific crop.
Another new product that was featured at this stop will be in the cab of the tractor. John Deere has released its new Generation 4 integrated display. This display is upgraded from the 2630 display that was released in 2010. The new generation 4 display moves away from the typical GS3 technology that most farmers have used or are still using today and it has made a lot of improvements for farmers in this region. While the 2630 gave the farmers an option to record and document their work it, it wasn’t as user friendly as the Generation 4. One major change for peanut farmers in the Generation 4 display is they now have the option to document peanut acres as “Peanuts”. The 2630 only offered a documentation tab as “edible beans” and not peanuts. With the new Generation 4 display peanut farmers have the option to properly document planted acres while using the “Peanuts” tab.
Another major change to discuss is the display in its self. John Deere did a very good job of upgrading this display to look similar to a cell phone or tablet. Cellular devices have a tablet style format to access your applications and the new Generation 4 display by John Deere offers this same layout. This makes ease of operation and navigation through the display incredibly easier for farmers and operators. To put this in perspective. With one tap of the screen farmers can now access all of their programmed implements to quickly switch their choice of operation (planting, Spraying, tillage or harvest) and then one tap of a button to return to their home screen. The 2630 display did not offer this as farmers had to navigate through pages of documentation set-up just to make a minor change. This display saves time for farmers and improves documentation data for the farmers.
The Second station displayed a new John Deere 4030 self-propelled sprayer also equipped with the new Generation 4 display. This sprayer is equipped with a lot of new features in the cab that have eased the operation of applying herbicides, pesticides and fungicides to the peanut crop. A main high point to talk about is the new hydro handle that has been upgraded inside the cab. The idea of the new hydro handle is to give the farmer the capability to control everything on the sprayer without having to touch the display or the console keys. The new handle offers options to move left or right as the sprayer drives autonomously down the row, turning sections on and off with a click of a button, and navigating through the display.
One of the main things on display at this stop was seeing the section control technology. Section control technology is programmed on the sprayer and its main purpose is to eliminate over spraying or over applying a product. The spectators got to see the sprayer spray a full broad cast spray up the row and then as it came back down the row the sprayer would cut off in sections to prevent overlap. While that’s going on outside the cab, inside the cab is another story. The operator can also see where he applied via the display in the cab. As the operator drives the sprayer, the screen is painting the field blue where he has already applied. This lets the operator know that he has already applied there, but if he misses a spot the screen will not turn blue. This lets the operator know to go back over that spot and apply again. This technology is a major game changer in our industry. It lowers cost and risk to damage the crop by not over applying, but it also lowers the risk of missing spots in the field.
Following the precision ag demo, attendees were able to see a crop dusting demonstration and visit a peanut field where Dawson Brothers were harvesting peanuts.
Georgia Peanut Tour attendees were able to learn more about peanut harvest at Chase Farms in Ogelthorpe, Georgia. Attendees were greeted by father and son duo, Glen Lee and Donald. Together, they grow peanuts, field corn, sweet corn and raise poultry. Donald currently represents farmers in his area by serving as the District Five Georgia Peanut Commission Board member.
During the tour stop, attendees were also able to learn more about an on-farm research trial by the University of Georgia Peanut Team at Chase Farms. The research is focusing on the use of Apogee, a plant growth regulator. Apogee is applied twice per year to peanuts to help with excessive vine growth. The product works on peanuts by reducing vegative vine growth and increasing yields when used properly.
“We usually have bigger vines and this product is used to hold the vine growth down so that more energy goes into producing nuts rather than just producing vines,” Donald Chase says. “It is something that is promising.”
In addition to the digging demonstration, local county Extension agents presented a Harvest Maturity Clinic for tour attendees. Farmers utilize the hull scrape method or pod blasting and the Peanut Profile Board to determine if peanuts have reached optimum maturity for harvest. Digging peanuts is one of the biggest decisions farmers make each year. The maturity of a peanut affects the yield, flavor, grade and shelf life. Farmers can lose as much as 500 to 700 pounds per acre in fields if peanuts are harvested too early or too late. During the tour several county agents set up stations to show attendees how to use the Peanut Profile Board. To learn more about using the profile board, watch this video from an earlier tour.
To kick off the final day of the tour, Agri-AFC graciously hosted tour attendees at the company’s Cordele location. Agri-AFC, a company who supports crops of all varieties, was formed in the fall of 2003 as a joint venture between Alabama Farmers Cooperative and WinField United. This joining allowed local cooperative members of the Alabama Farmers Cooperative to have more competitively priced crop input products and availability of new products.
Since its inception, Agri-AFC has made several additions by purchasing fertilizer companies, retail locations and storage and handling facilities throughout the Southeast. Agri-AFC is based out of Decatur, Alabama, and currently has more than 300 employees. These employees staff the seven fertilizer terminals, three crop protection warehouses, three seed warehouses, eight professional products locations, a cotton gin and warehouse and 30 retail operations throughout the Southeast.
The Cordele location, seated on 13 acres, operates an 8,000-ton fertilizer plant and is home to the company’s largest retail location. For fertilizer specifically, the plant sees approximately 50 semi-trucks each day, where they operate a new high-speed system that loads trucks in six minutes or less; much faster than an older version that may take 45 minutes to an hour to load. Most peanuts are not fertilized; however, since peanuts are typically rotated with cotton and corn, both crops that need fertilizer, what this location offers is important to the South Georgia row crop farmer.
This location also services 12 of Georgia’s 14 stores as a full-service agricultural retailer, operating in 20,000 square feet of retail space. In addition to the fertilizer offered, the company treats corn, cotton and soybean seed, as well as rye, wheat and oats occasionally. They also sale a variety of chemical products for peanuts and other crops, as well as lime and land plaster.
Upon leaving Golden’s shelling facility, tour attendees traveled down the road to Nolin Steel. Nolin Steel, a third generation, family-owned and operated business, is a machine manufacturing company in the peanut industry. The company was founded in 1975 by Guy and Frank Nolin in Commache, Texas, and originally focused on millwright work. The company moved to Ashburn in 1986 and over time, began making changes in manufacturing and redirecting its focus to custom equipment and niche markets. Today, Nolin Steel manufacturers a multitude of equipment products, including those for processing and materials handling. To keep up with new technology, investments in modern manufacturing have allowed them to handle many processes on site (design, laser cutting, forming, welding, powder coating and final assembly). The company is growth-oriented with 30 employees, 80,000+ square feet of space and endless possibilities.
Nolin Steel serves the peanut industry, as well as almonds, grain and feed. In regard to peanuts, they provide turn key projects for buying points and warehousing, shelling and in-shell plants, blanching plants, re-mill lines, seed treating lines and bulk load out systems. The company’s philosophy on equipment design is to make it effective (it must do a good job), durable (it must last a long time), simple (they follow the KISS method), efficient (lowest possible inputs to do the job at hand), user friendly (no advanced degrees needed) and inexpensive (their goal is to make a living, not a fortune). To view their peanut equipment, click here.
During the group’s visit at Nolin, attendees received a tour of Nolin’s manufacturing facility and a presentation on the company. Grant Nolin, president of the company, said one of the key take-home messages he wanted tour attendees to leave with is any size peanut shelling plant can be profitable. At Nolin Steel, their goal is to design exactly what the customer needs from the ground up; no matter the size. They want customers to understand their timeless values: hard work, quality, honesty and integrity, constant improvement and excellence. All things the Georgia Peanut Tour attendees were able to see.
Now that tour attendees have seen how peanuts are taken to a buying point, the next step in the process is moving them to a shelling plant. In Georgia, farmers grow primarily runner peanuts. Runners are used in predominately peanut butter and peanut candy; therefore, they are almost always shelled before moving on to further processing. To show tour attendees what that process is like, a visit to Golden Peanut and Tree Nuts in Ashburn is on the agenda.
Golden Peanut and Tree Nuts, a wholly owned subsidiary of Archer Daniels Midland, is a leading sheller in the peanut industry. Dating back to the 1950s, Golden has consistently remained committed to the industry – to growers, manufacturers and the global market. In the United States alone, Golden has peanut shelling and specialty product facilities in Georgia (Ashburn, Blakely and Dawson), Alabama and Texas. Internationally, they have peanut shelling facilities in Argentina and South Africa. Their specialty products include peanut flours, oil and extract, as well as hull and fiber options.
The Ashburn facility, which has been in operation since 1967, operates as a sheller of runner peanuts only and provides cold storage. The Ashburn facility receives peanuts to shell from Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
To view the shelling process, check out this video from minute 6:22 to minute 8:44.
The Georgia Peanut Tour visited Sasser 520 Peanut Buying Point so attendees could learn more about the first point of delivery for peanuts after harvest. Farmers haul their peanuts in wagons or semi trailers to the buying point. Prior to delivery the farmer tags the load in the field. The tag contains the producer’s name, farm and variety information.
Once at the buying point the peanuts are dryed in the wagons and then a sample is removed from the wagon for grading. The grading is handled by the Georgia Federal State Inspection Service. The peanuts are stored in warehouses and then hauled to shellers for additional processing.
The Georgia Peanut Tour visited the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga. This lab was established in 1965 for the purpose of improving farming practices. Since that time, scientists have studied a variety of factors involved in peanut production from better planting practices to better irrigation practices. Scientists have also researched ways to improve harvesting methods, storage methods, and the better use of environmental and financial resources.
Dr. Marshall Lamb, research leader and location coordinator at the National Peanut Research Laboratory, says, “We are one of the only USDA ARS labs that is solely dedicated to peanut research. Here at the lab we are developing technology for the end users.”
The NPRL has four different main projects that they work under. One of those is a cropping systems unit where we look at crop rotations and irrigation. Secondly, NPRL has an engineering unit that Dr. Chris Butts is the lead on where researchers look at ways to improve efficiency and quality in the post harvest sector. NPRL also focuses efforts on chemistry, genetics, and molecular biology where researchers are looking at natural defense mechanisms for peanuts but also ways to improve drought tolerance, and to come out with improved varieties for the industry.
NPRL will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this November. Through 50 years of research, scientists at the lab have created a tremendous amount of technology that is being used in the industry today. Originally, the focus at NPRL was on engineering and aflatoxins. However, over the years scientists have migrated to look at cropping systems type work and irrigation scheduling. Researchers at NPRL actually developed the Irrigator Pro scheduling system for managing the timing and amount of irrigation in peanuts. Researchers also developed Whole Farm which is a planning system that incorporates rotation data to help growers make better decisions on what to plant in the field for profit maximization.
Within the engineering unit at NPRL, Dr. Butts has done a lot of storage work both farmer stock storage and shelf stock storage. The research has actually changed the way the industry is looking at storing peanuts to maintain quality throughout storage. NPRL scientists are also looking at drought resistance projects with our cooperative breeding program with Auburn University. The program is showing a lot of promise with some of the cultivar lines that are showing drought resistance and will be available soon for farmers.
Dr. Renee Arias is working on ways to break the aflatoxin synthesis pathway and she has done an amazing amount of work on that area so that one day, we can hopefully eliminate aflatoxin contamination in peanuts. Her success has actually led to her receiving the Presidential Early Career Scientist of the Year Award a few years ago. Dr. Sobolev and Dr. Massa are working on looking at ways to increase phytoalexin production in peanuts which is a natural defense mechanism such that when a pathogen invades a peanut, it will be stronger and able to resist it better.