#TBT: Revisiting the Peanut Project: A Model of Farmer-Centered Innovation

Peanut Project Farmers

To celebrate our 25th anniversary this year, we’ve started a new series that combines reflections on our history with the popular “Throwback Thursday” (#TBT) social media trend. Look for new articles tagged with #TBT here on Thursdays and join us for a look back on our history of working alongside farmers and rural communities.

RAFI started the Peanut Project 20 years ago as a proactive response to increasing pressures on North Carolina peanut farmers in the 1990s. Shrinking profit margins, consumer and regulatory demand for a reduction in the use of pesticides, and the elimination of farm programs, were some of the signs of a coming restructuring of NC agriculture.

Kelli Peanut Project

When the Peanut Project commenced in 1995, North Carolina was the fourth largest peanut producing state. The goal of the project was to reduce the need for chemical pesticides in peanut production while improving or maintaining farm net returns. The project also aimed to bolster growers by combining a support network of individuals to help work through challenges with financial and technical resources to aid in the process. And ultimately, the project was directed towards creating a farmer-centered model which could be applied to a variety of crops and commodities.

Collaboration and information sharing among farmers, land grant faculty, extension agents, non-governmental organizations, and peanut industry professionals was important to the success of the project. The Peanut Project: Farmer-Focused Innovation for Sustainable Peanut Production, a RAFI publication on the project’s results, reports that in 1998 Peanut Project farmers had reduced their use of chemical pesticides from 1994 levels by over 106,000 pounds of active ingredient. Additionally, “85% of the participating growers increased their profit, and most reported no yield reduction.”

Peanut Project Scott Marlow

To communicate the results of Peanut Project field trials, the reporting of farmer-run research, upcoming events and networking opportunities, the Peanut Project circulated a newsletter. The Peanut Project Newsletter made some important proclamations about the role of farmers in agricultural research. For instance a May 1997 edition had this to say:

Farmers were the original agriculture researchers. The first crop breeders were the farmers who saved the seed from the best plants to grow the next season. Farmers continue to innovate, to experiment, and to explore new ideas. Research done by farmers and on farms can also provide information that is not available to researchers.”

Looking through the Peanut Project publications was a convivial opportunity to identify present RAFI staffers in earlier stages of their careers. Below is a photo of RAFI’s current Project Coordinator for the BOPS program, Kelli Dale, back when she was a Scouting Coordinator for the project.And another familiar face, Mr. Scott Marlow, RAFI’s Executive Director, is shown scouting young peanut plants back when he was Project Director.

RAFI’s Breeding for Organic Production Systems (BOPS) program continues to collaborate on farmer-led research projects, including field trials with peanuts. The most recent research has involved a peanut line that Dr. Tom Isleib is breeding for organic production. Please visit the BOPS site for more information: www.rafiusa.org/bopscoalition

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