How Are Peanuts Grown? The Complete Guide to Growing Peanuts

You might already know about peanuts . You may enjoy them smooshed into nut butter , blitzed in your favourite smoothie or covered in chocolate as a decadent snack. But have you ever wondered how are peanuts grown? Well, wonder no more! In this guide, we will take you through the interesting process of peanut cultivation, including where and how peanuts are grown. We'll look at different cultivars and the secrets of successful growth in various regions around the world. Plus, get an insight into the local farmers who are hard at work growing peanuts here in Australia. So, let's delve into it and discover just how those delicious, crunchy morsels we call peanuts make their way into your favourite snacks and dishes.

What Exactly Are Peanuts?

So, let's start with the basics. Peanuts are grown from the seeds of a plant called Arachis Hypogaea , which is native to South America. Peanuts, believe it or not, are not nuts at all in the botanical sense. They are, in fact, legumes, placing them in the same family as beans and peas.

While peanuts are classified as legumes, they certainly don't behave like them. Peanuts grow in quite a peculiar way. They don't grow in pods on vines or on stalks - the way legumes typically would. Instead, they have little seeds which develop underground, earning them the moniker "groundnuts". The most commonly used cultivar for commercial peanut production is the Virginia type, which has a larger kernel size and a robust flavour. Other popular cultivars include Spanish, Valencia, and Runner peanuts (more on these later).

Again, unlike nuts, peanuts are encased in a thin, papery shell and grow on a plant that stands only about 1.5 feet tall. Nuts, contrarily, are hard-shelled seeds that grow on trees. Despite its small stature, this plant is a mighty producer, pushing its flower stalks underground after pollination to form peanuts. So, next time you reach for a handful of peanuts, remember you're enjoying the fruits (seeds) of an incredible underground journey.

The History of Peanut Cultivation

Originating in South America, peanuts were cultivated by ancient civilisations as far back as 7,500 years ago. It's believed that Spanish explorers, intrigued by this versatile crop, brought peanuts back to Europe. From there, traders and explorers disseminated it across the globe. In North America, peanuts were used primarily for animal feed. However, thanks to the invention of peanut butter and the work of American agricultural scientist George Washington Carver, who developed hundreds of uses for the humble groundnut , peanuts surged in popularity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, peanuts are grown worldwide, gracing kitchen pantries, snack bowls, and desserts and adding nutritional value to meals around the world .

4 Different Peanut Cultivars

There are four primary varieties of peanuts that are cultivated worldwide. Each type has its unique characteristics and suitable uses.

  1. Virginia Peanuts: These large peanuts are prevalent in Australia, characterised by an abundant bush structure, and widely used in commercial food production. Virginia Peanuts account for most peanut production here and grow in drier and moist soil regions. They appear as two large seeds per pod, are great for roasting and are often sold in-shell to consumers.
  2. Runner Peanuts: These peanuts are the most widely cultivated in the United States and equally grow well in Australia. Runners typically spread along the ground and thrive in irrigated or high-rainfall regions. Like Virginia peanuts, runner peanuts have a dual seed in each pod. They yield small to medium-sized kernels, which are perfect in confectionary manufacturing and as a snacking nut.
  3. Spanish Peanuts: Smaller than the Virginia variety, Spanish peanuts have a higher oil content, making them perfect for sweets, peanut butter, and gourmet snacks.
  4. Valencia Peanuts: Known for their sweet flavour and usually featuring three or more nuts per shell, Valencia peanuts are less commonly grown and can be used for all-natural peanut butter.

Each peanut variety contributes to the diverse range of peanut products available on the market!

Person harvesting peanuts on an Australian farm.

Peanut Farming in Australia

When it comes to peanut cultivation in Australia, certain regions shine brighter than others. Peanuts thrive in areas with warm climatic conditions and fertile soils, catering to the peanut plant's specific growth needs. Australia cultivates three primary varieties of peanuts: Virginia, Runner and Spanish. The leading region for peanut farming is Queensland , particularly the South Burnett region and Atherton Tablelands.

Kingaroy is a local Queensland spot that has gained recognition in recent years for its high-quality peanut production. This area provides a conducive environment for peanut growth, thanks to warm temperatures, adequate rainfall, and the rich, red volcanic earth that offers excellent drainage and nutrient content for this finicky crop. In fact, the first peanuts ever grown commercially in Australia were planted in this pocket of Queensland. Peanut processing continues to thrive today, and it has been the heartbeat of the regional economy since. So, whether you're an aspiring peanut farmer or just a curious nut aficionado, it's great to see that peanut farming in Australia is alive and well.

How Are Peanuts Grown?

Now that we have explored peanuts’ history and local cultivation and which varieties grow well in Australia, let's delve into how peanuts are grown.

Growing Conditions and Soil Quality

Growing peanuts begins with selecting the most suitable cultivar for the region and preparing the soil for planting. As far as the right growing conditions, peanuts flourish in warm climates between temperatures of 21-29°C. Peanuts grow best in loose, well-aerated, sandy soil with a pH between 5.8 and 6.2. Commercial peanut farmers know that keeping the top layer of their chosen plot loose and adding compost or fertiliser provides the necessary nutrients that these plants need for a successful crop yield.

Ensuring the soil is free of clay and protected from potential frost exposure is also important. Some peanut varieties need more water than others, and irrigation systems may be required, while others do well in dry climates. An interesting fact about peanuts is that their yields can be reduced by 10-60% each time if they are cultivated continuously as a single crop. Due to this, peanuts are often grown in rotation with other crops wherever they are produced.

Planting and Harvesting

The next step is planting the peanut seeds, usually in early Spring or Summer. This step can be done by hand or with a mechanical planter for commercial farming. Peanuts are typically planted in rows, with 6 to 10 plants/metre spacing. The seeds are nestled just a few centimetres below the soil, and you'll usually see the young plants sprouting within a few weeks of planting.

The small, vibrant yellow peanut flower begins to bloom about a month from planting. After the flowers are pollinated, the stalk/peg begins to descend downward into the soil. About a week after this occurs, the tip of the stalk expands within the ground, marking the start of the peanut pod and seed development. Over the next ten weeks or so, the peanut within undergoes a maturation process.

Peanuts reach maturity and are ready for harvest when the leaves turn yellow and the peanut pods are visible beneath the earth. This process takes around 150 days and usually occurs in late summer or the beginning of Autumn. After harvesting, the peanut plants are hung to dry and cured for up to 3 weeks. Lastly, they're ready for shelling and roasting before being sold to consumers.

Tips and Tricks for a Bountiful Peanut Harvest

So, do you want to give peanut growing a go? To ensure a successful peanut harvest, there are a few key things to consider:

  • Aerate the soil: Peanuts require well-drained sandy soil for optimal growth. Avoid planting them in heavy clay soils, as they can cause the plants to deteriorate.
  • Add gypsum for a nutrient boost: Gypsum can help loosen heavy soils and provide calcium, which is essential for healthy peanut plants.
  • Keep the soil moist: Peanuts require consistent moisture during their growing season. Ensure that your soil is well-drained but not overly dry or waterlogged.
  • Manage Leaf Spots: Yellow or brown spots on your peanut leaves could indicate a fungal disease. To combat this, ensure your peanuts have plenty of space for air circulation and consider a fungicide if the problem persists.
  • Control weeds: Weeds compete with peanut plants for nutrients and water, so it's essential to keep them under control. Consider using mulch or hand-weeding to keep weeds at bay.
  • Look out for root rot: If your peanuts are wilting or showing signs of stunted growth, they may suffer from root rot. This often occurs in poorly drained soil, so ensure your soil is well-drained and rotate crops yearly to avoid this issue.
  • Harvest at the right time: As mentioned, peanuts are ready for harvest when the leaves turn yellow and the pods are visible beneath the soil. Your harvest day should also be dry to prevent mildew or aflatoxin growth. Gently pull the plants out of the ground, shake off any excess dirt, and let them cure in the sun for about 2-3 days before removing the pods.

The Environmental Impact of Peanut Cultivation

Growing peanuts, like any farming activity, has an environmental footprint. However, peanuts have unique characteristics that can make them a more environmentally friendly crop option. Peanuts are legumes, not nuts, which means they have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules . This helps reduce the need for nitrogen-based fertilisers, which can help protect the soil’s nutrient profile.

On the flip side of peanut farming, the heavy reliance on chemical pesticides can pose major environmental risks, contaminating water sources and disrupting local ecosystems. Seeking organic or low-tox pest control options is essential to minimise these effects. Peanut farming, like all commercial farming pursuits, presents some challenges. However, by implementing conscientious management practices such as regular crop rotation and prioritising sustainable farming methods, peanut farming can become an environmentally friendly endeavour.

Peanut products on a wooden chopping board.

The Versatility of Peanut Products

Peanut farming isn't just for peanut butter production. Once harvested, peanuts can be used in various ways , making them a versatile and valuable crop in many industries. Here are some of the common uses for peanuts:

  • Peanut butter: Well, yes, of course. Perhaps the most well-known use for peanuts is peanut butter. Natural peanut butter is incredibly healthy and is a staple ingredient in many households.
  • Peanut flour: Ground peanuts can be turned into flour, which is used in baking and cooking.
  • Cooking oil: Peanuts can be pressed to extract their oil, commonly used in cooking and stir-frying due to its high smoke point.
  • Snacks: Peanuts are often roasted and salted to make a tasty and nutritious snack.
  • Confectionary: Peanuts are a popular ingredient in confectionary, ice cream, baked goods and chocolates.
  • Animal feed: The leftover peanut meal after pressing peanut oil can be used as a protein-rich feed for livestock.

The Humble Peanut: Journey from Seed to Snack

So, how are peanuts grown? With a lot of dedication, care and love for this incredible snack. This humble legume, grown in the warm, sandy soils of various regions worldwide, transforms from a tiny seed into a protein-packed powerhouse that is loved by many. Every step is important in ensuring healthy and productive peanut plants, from choosing the right cultivar to proper harvesting techniques. By understanding how peanuts are grown, we can better appreciate the effort that goes into every handful of these delicious and nutritious treats. Whenever you next open a jar of peanut butter or enjoy a handful of roasted peanuts , remember the time and passion that went into growing these wonderful morsels.

Article References

Dillehay, Tom D.  "Earliest-known evidence of peanut, cotton and squash farming found" . Retrieved June 29, 2007.

Liang, S., Jiang, Y., & Zhang, M. (2023). Integrative analysis of the effects of organic and conventional farming methods on peanut based on transcriptome and metabolomics.  Food research international (Ottawa, Ont.) 171 , 113065.

Ros, E., Singh, A., & O'Keefe, J. H. (2021). Nuts: Natural Pleiotropic Nutraceuticals.  Nutrients 13 (9), 3269.

Sithole, T. R., Ma, Y. X., Qin, Z., Liu, H. M., & Wang, X. D. (2022). Influence of Peanut Varieties on the Sensory Quality of Peanut Butter.  Foods (Basel, Switzerland) 11 (21), 3499.

Tang, X., Jiang, J., Huang, Z., Wu, H., Wang, J., He, L., Xiong, F., Zhong, R., Liu, J., Han, Z., Tang, R., & He, L. (2021). Sugarcane/peanut intercropping system improves the soil quality and increases the abundance of beneficial microbes.  Journal of basic microbiology 61 (2), 165–176.

Tang, X., Zhong, R., Jiang, J., He, L., Huang, Z., Shi, G., Wu, H., Liu, J., Xiong, F., Han, Z., Tang, R., & He, L. (2020). Cassava/peanut intercropping improves soil quality via rhizospheric microbes increased available nitrogen contents.  BMC biotechnology 20 (1), 13.

Toomer O. T. (2020). A comprehensive review of the value-added uses of peanut ( Arachis hypogaea) skins and by-products.  Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 60 (2), 341–350.

Toomer O. T. (2018). Nutritional chemistry of the peanut (Arachis hypogaea).  Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 58 (17), 3042–3053.

Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, Nov 14).  Peanut . Retrieved from Wikipedia website: , viewed 21 Nov 2023.

Zeng, R. E., Geng, Q. H., Gao, H. K., Pan, Q. Q., Chen, T. T., Chen, Y., & Zhang, L. (2023). Mechanism of symbiotic nodulation between nitrogen and peanut.  Yi chuan = Hereditas 45 (9), 801–812.

Zhou, L. Z., Chen, F. S., Hao, L. H., Du, Y., & Liu, C. (2019). Peanut Oil Body Composition and Stability.  Journal of food science 84 (10), 2812–2819.