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Best management practices – a multi-disciplinary approach to improving the yield of high input peanut production in Australia

Greg Mills1, Jim Barnes1, Graeme Wright1, NageswaraRao C. Rachaputi1 and Michael Hughes2

1 Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Agency for Food and Fibre Sciences, Farming Systems, J. Bjelke
Petersen Research Station, PO Box 23, Kingaroy, Qld 4610 Email:
Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, PO Box 27 Kairi 4872


Australian peanut production in high rainfall and irrigated areas has been typified by less than consistent yield outcomes and a substantial ‘yield gap’ where commercial crops have generally been achieving only 30-50% of the demonstrated genetic potential observed in research plots. Lower yields are regularly reflected in depressed kernel quality and poor grower returns. The essential contributing factors to this yield deficit have been well documented over a number of years and generally quantified (Wright et al, 2002). However, growers and agronomists have been slow to combine these improved practices into general production programs because of a lack of understanding, inconsistent information to industry and economic constraints that impede adoption. This project has sought to introduce, document and develop a range of best management practices applicable to the wide range of production environments and farming systems operating in peanut production to overcome barriers to change. The work has developed close networks with researchers, extension officers, agronomists, farmers and processors to understand, foster and implement the necessary changes as well as benchmark the practices and impacts of improved management across the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales border regions. A core emphasis has been a science-based approach involving many aspects of crop physiology, soil science, disease, weed and pest management and crop modelling into farming practices with a strong focus on profitable and sustainable production.

Media summary

A collaborative science-based approach to the implementation, benchmarking and industry wide adoption of best management practices in high input peanut production in Australia.

Key Words

Peanuts, irrigation, best management practices, extension, adoption, water use efficiency, sustainability


Current commercial peanut yields under high input irrigated systems in Australia are between 30-50% of the genetic potential achieved in experimental and breeding plots, (Wright et al, 2002). For example, intake figures from the Peanut Company of Australia (PCA) indicate that commercial yields of between 2 to 5 t/ha are common for current commercial varieties despite the nominal upward trend with demonstrated commercial yields of up to 7 to 8 t/ha (eg cv. Streeton, NC-7, Florunner). Intake figures for the period 1996-2001 point to an average irrigated peanut yield of well below 4 t/ha. This represents a significant potential for yield improvement for growers if the yield gap issues can be identified and resolved. Early evaluation of this work has helped to elucidate barriers to change, including lack of awareness or confidence in improved techniques and varying attitudes to risk management. Peanut growers perceive few profitable choices when adopting alternative rotations to boost peanut yield. However, it has been confirmed that experimental yields can exceed 7 to 8 t/ha. Recent Indian data indicates greater than 11t/ha (Rachaputi, 2002) commercial yield potential with the variety TAG24. Australian experience clearly indicates a number of factors have been responsible for this 'yield gap’, including poor irrigation and foliar and soil-borne disease management, poor rotations and harvest losses, poor plant stands and ineffective weed control.

This project extends the previous GRDC-funded peanut yield gap studies "Achieving genetic potential of existing peanut varieties in high input production systems throughout Queensland" aimed at establishing the foundations of successful high yielding irrigated peanut production. Industry stakeholders expressed a strong sentiment about the need for the development work to continue and in particular, be extended and adopted by peanut growers. Hence, this project was established to address this need by adding value to past research involving collection and collation of agronomic data, benchmarking selected farms using APSIM Peanut analyses and the wider application of modelling software among producers. This paper presents an overview of how our work has led to better adoption of specific best management practices (BMP) as determined by researchers and established and acccepted field practices by farmers and agronomists in a whole farming systems approach. This is aimed at raising average crop yields to 5.5 t/ha, with consequent improvements to quality, profitability and total production.


Collaborative planning & priority setting processes

Preliminary work for setting and achieving priorities was completed in consultation with all industry stakeholders including growers, consultants, processors, QDPI&F research and extension officers representing all aspects of crop physiology, agronomy, crop protection, water use efficiency (WUE), nutrition with input from CSIRO collaborators. An important aspect of meeting stakeholder expectations were consultative workshops prior to and during the project with all sectors, sharing their views, gathering input, setting realistic targets and gaining agreement on their achievability. All regional production areas were represented and made submissions to the forums. This work has aimed to effectively deliver outcomes in a participatory action research framework that is currently being demanded by funders and farmers, (Carberry, 2001).

The initial forum came to an important general agreement about the productivity target (average of 5.5 t/ha) which is a 50% increase on the existing industry average with stakeholders recognising a number of discreet, key elements in managing an excellent peanut crop. Priority work areas in crop agronomy were ranked as follows in descending order of importance - water management, crop rotation, disease and weed control, maturity assessment and harvest losses. The project was unlikely to achieve outcomes without wide industry endorsement, partipation and priority setting with the critcial application of BMP in commercial fields rather than experimental plots. The project focused on areas of dedicated and expanding peanut production that offer suitable soils, climate and good access to water across Queensland and the Northern Territory.. The wide geographic spread of irrigated peanut led to wide collaborative effort among researchers, agronomists and farmers in all regions despite constraints caused by distance, drought and lack of irigation water.

Key Work Areas

Effective components have been farmers, consultants and project staff collaborating to:-

1. Use a benchmarking approach to demonstrate a program of BMP for successful irrigated peanut production. Regional sites essentially implementing all of the advocated BMP inherent in producing high yielding crops in commercial situations. These elements were detailed in model farm field selection and management protocols.

2. Benchmark sites allocated in all major production regions including new areas.

3. Concentrate on irrigation management as a major issue to address, using soil moisture probes, local weather data and a scheduling approach using crop model/water balance approaches.

4. Monitor and report on the effectiveness of existing and new fungicides for disease control.

5. To establish how crops are performing and what factors have been important in determining yield. Benchmarking is also important to measure productivity gains and employs a comprehensive DPI-developed software package incorporating all elements of whole farming system capital and cash costs.

Extension Process

Farmers have retained a primary involvement in the process, being responsible for the production decisions and ultimately gaining knowledge and deriving profitable benefits which can be transposed to other growers. Agronomists and processors partner this work. Information is relayed to growers via industry newsletters, annual updates and workshops, Aussie Peanut email lists (AUSSIE-PEANUT-NET@LISTS.DPI.QLD.GOV.AU) and most importantly via regional industry agronomists. Special efforts are also made to conduct workshops and field days to disseminate information about successful irrigated peanut production to new peanut growers and agronomists. An annual review of activities with input from all stakeholders has been conducted in each year of the project.

A final project report will be published as a guide to profitable and sustainable high yielding peanut production. Important elements of this publication will be a preliminary guide on farm capability for sustainable peanut production and the use of decision support tools to assist with best management practices in irrigated peanut production. Strong peanut industry stakeholder input and local production skills are sought to make this publication both useful and practical. Project collaborators continue to foster effective linkages between growers, researchers, extension personnel, private consultants and industry processors, that can greatly enhance communication flows and identify priority research, development and extension issues.

Results and discussion

To date the BMP approach has achieved wide industry recognition amongst all stakeholder groups. The project has endeavoured to conduct itself in a collaborative and complementary fashion to existing R & D work and assist regional industry agronomists. Processing industry involvement and endorsement of activities has been strong. The work has sought and embraced the collective expertise of scientists, industry and experienced growers and convinced many individuals of the widely justifiable application of science-based approaches to peanut production. A key outcome has been the increased understanding of the application of science and the interpretation of results by growers, substantively empowering them to make better decisions on a day-to-day basis rather than be reliant on intermittent visits by industry agronomists.

Extension activities

Specific crop modelling activities continue to provide the foundations for benchmarking individual farm practices, recording all aspects of crop agronomy, farm inputs, irrigation and yield. APSIM Peanut simulation models have been used strategically to assist decision-making regarding critical issues such as planting time, potential harvest losses and irrigation management by researchers, agronomists and farmers.

Technical topics and current issues are addressed via an industry newsletter that is distributed to a comprehensive list of producers and agronomists in all regional areas. This has been a mainstay of efficient communication, especially for producers operating in less accessible areas with little opportunity to talk to local colleagues and agronomists with production expertise. The ‘Nut2U’ newsletter invites active participation in current stories and issues raised by growers, covers new developments and reminds growers of critical BMP activities and links to websites or further information. Key industry contacts and project staff are contactable via this medium to discuss any issues. Field days and workshops have been numerous, comprehensive and embraced a range of complementary topics such as tillage systems, spray application technology and irrigation design, management and WUE. Broader farming systems issues with BMP have dealt with cadmium, organochlorine residues, crop rotation, crop nutrition and the benefits of peanuts especially to cane productivity. The project has sought to widely address issues associated with BMP by engaging outside expertise where possible. Participation rates by growers, agronomists and service industry personnel have been excellent according to feedback and critical debate, attendance of project activities and some of the key issues being tackled at farm level. Importantly, industry forums have generated good participation from growers both old and new. Depth of experience of older growers along with innovation and enthusiasm of younger players has provided an excellent mix of knowledge and prompted the exchange of ideas, information and adoption of BMP. “Farmers talking to farmers” has been an important element of this process, encouraging healthy debate with clear endorsement of the science of BMP and resulting in improved adoption levels. Ongoing surveys will establish key outputs of this work post-harvest 2004 and be further verified by industry peanut intake figures. Further workshops and surveys will provide opportunities to establish work priorities through to 2005.

Project activities have regularly drawn together interactive workshops to address issues, priorities, exchange ideas and update on technical development at a national and regional level.

Science meets practice with in-field irrigation, water use efficiency and crop modelling studies to assist growers with decision-making.

Dedicated growers are making significant progress in achieving yields of up to 6-8 t/ha. Concern still exists among all stakeholders about consistently reducing harvest losses often associated with wet harvesting windows, less suitable soils and poor harvest management. In traditional cane production areas, BMP uptake has been particularly strong amongst new growers because they have tended to follow advocated BMP more closely given their relative inexperience with the crop. Despite the general lack of knowledge, expertise and infrastructure associated with grain production in coastal cane areas of Queensland, these farmers have shown great interest and adaptability in adopting a new and intensively managed crop. Some yields have been exceptional where growers apply BMP rules, even in difficult production environments challenged by poor soil nutrition, low water-holding status and disease outbreaks.

Some peanut growers have invested in new equipment with confidence and especially improved irrigation and chemical application machinery to target core aspects of BMP. WUE has been and will continue to be a high priority for these producers. Improved knowledge of commercial crop yield potential and the perceived risk reductions associated with adoption of BMP practices has greatly assisted this. Major additional benefits flow from BMP adoption in other aspects of the farming enterprise. High yielding, uniform peanut crops deliver very tangible benefits to producers for the following grain, cane, horticultural and grass seed crops.

Farmers and agronomists have had wide exposure to science-based BMP concepts via participating demonstration farms such as this one at Bundaberg.

Cane growers discussed the latest spray management techniques in a series of forums with critical emphasis on fungicide use.


Collaborative and consultative, science-based approaches delivered in commercial peanut production systems offer a clear advantage over uncoordinated and ad hoc approaches to adopting change. BMP and its application in a participatory farming systems framework (Eastough, 2001) offers an excellent model for change if developed with stakeholder input and ownership and has wide applicability to a range of farming systems and cropping enterprises. Producers derive greater benefits to their enterprise by being empowered to make better management decisions. Adoption of new technology is improved, understood and raises the overall expectations for industry sustainability and productivity among researchers, agronomists and farmers alike through the two-way learning and experiential processes and testing the practicalities of advocated BMP. These methodologies that actively seek to harness science and practice, and encompass the broader involvement of agronomists and producers can provide additional value to stakeholders and funding organizations alike, whilst improving the uptake of new technologies or practices. R&D efforts provide valuable feedback and constantly tests science in practice.


We thank the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) for their funding support of this project (DAQ00023). We also acknowledge the many irrigated peanut growers who have allowed trials on their farms and continuing support from Peanut Company of Australia and industry agronomists.


Mills, GJ; Wright, GC; Rachaputi, NC; Mackson, J; Broome, J Tatnell, J; Krosch, S (2001) Hip pockets and aflatoxin: A positive model for change in the peanut industry. Proceedings APEN International Conference

Carberry, PS (2001) Are science rigour and industry relevance both achievable in participatory action research? Proceedings 10th Australian Agronomy Conference, Hobart. 2001

Eastough, BR (2001) Why should GRDC invest in participatory farming systems research? Proceedings 10th Australian Agronomy Conference, Hobart 2001

Wright, GC; Rachaputi, NC; White, D; Robertson, M; Tonks, J; Burrill, P; Ginns, S; & Bullen, K (2001) Achieving the Genetic Potential of Peanuts in Irrigated Production Systems. Proceedings of the 10th Australian Agronomy Conference, Australian Society of Agronomy.

Rachaputi, NC (2002) Personal communication.

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