Southeast peanut growers can learn lessons from last year

Paul Hollis, Southeast Farm Press

While no one knows what the weather will bring this growing season, peanut producers can at least take a few lessons from what occurred in 2014, say Extension specialists in Georgia and Alabama.

“We need to concentrate the most, probably this year and next year, on what we can do to save money when growing peanuts,” says Scott Monfort, University of Georgia Extension peanut specialist.

But, he’s quick to add that it’s not the time to cut costs indiscriminately. “Even though prices will be low, it’s not a time to be cutting corners that’ll hurt us in the end. Stick to what is proven and what we know will make a crop,” says Monfort.

This past season, he says, was like riding a roller coaster.

 “It’s one of those things that you loved to do as a child, but when you do as you get a little older, you’ve had enough by the time you get to the end. It was one of those years when you want to get off the ride without getting too sick,” he says.

In Georgia, conditions were wet early before eventually drying off completely, he says.

“We had some problems, especially with the non-irrigated crop. By the end of the season, not only did we see a drop in yield but also in quality. We saw a lot of Seg. 2 peanuts, and it was simply because we didn’t have enough moisture throughout the season to get that calcium absorbed along with boron and other things.”

Insect problems also were widespread this past year, and they caused quality issues, says Monfort.

“Some of our peanuts looked good on the outside until we started cracking them open. We couldn’t clean them and get rid of the problems.”

But Georgia ended the season with a statewide average yield of 4,100 pounds per acre, and that’s phenomenal considering weather conditions, he says.

“To have 50 percent of our crop non-irrigated and to come out with those yields is pretty good. Some other states did very well, though everyone in the lower Southeast saw problems.”

There definitely will be a peanut acreage increase nationwide this year, and that increase will come in runner-type peanuts, says Monfort.

“It’s going to make things probably even worse for us in 2016, as far as having a large carryover.

It does make you sort of scratch your head wondering what to do. Most growers are figuring out the Farm Bill as they go along, and everyone is in that same boat.”

Even with the quality issues seen in 2014, seed inventory was expected to be good this year along with quality, he says.

“So it won’t be like it was going into 2011, when we were trying to plant a lot of acreage with some poor-quality seed.”

Monfort’s best advice for 2015 is to stay informed and keep in touch with your county Extension agent.

“If you’re expanding into new ground, know the field history as much as possible. Soil sampling will save you money. Our main worry for this year is rotation. With this expansion of acres – 15 to 20 percent in Georgia – rotations really scare us because we know you’re not increasing corn, and you’re not increasing cotton. A lot of people are talking about growing soybeans, and that’s not what we what to do with peanuts in the rotation. And we definitely don’t want to shorten our rotations so that disease gets out of hand.”

Growing peanuts after peanuts leads to very low yield potential, Monfort reminds growers.

“One year out gives us a little boost, a second year is even better, and by the third year we’re doing very well. With soybeans, we start running into disease issues and other problems.”

In the last couple of years, he says, the peanut planting date in Georgia has been inching into late April, and that’s mainly due to very good varietal resistance to tomato spotted wilt virus.

“Make sure soil temperatures are at least 68 degrees F. or higher for several consecutive days. We don’t want to have 68 degrees for three days and then turn back to 65. Always know what’s ahead of you, and know what your soil temperatures are. One of the cheapest forms of insurance you can have is a scout looking at your peanuts. With newer varieties, we’re starting to see some of our maturities spread out. That is not a bad thing and will help us eventually.”

While it looks like a rocky road for peanut growers for the next couple of years, Monfort says the key to survival will be good management.

“Get the latest and best information available, and your county Extension agent is the best source. Be as timely as you can and be ready for the unexpected.”

Across the river in Alabama, some growers in the state’s Wiregrass region said 2014 was their worst crop ever, with dry conditions later in the summer, says Kris Balkcom, Auburn University Extension peanut specialist.

“And they farmed during 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010. In some cases, peanuts made less than 1,000 pounds and were destroyed in some cases instead of being dug and harvested,” says Balkcom.

Alabama’s statewide average yield ended the season in the 3,200 to 3,300-pound per acre range, with more than a few quality issues, he says.

“We had about 35,000 tons of Seg. 2s and Seg. 3s. We never could get that big rain to jump-start our peanuts and allow them to set fruit.”

Growers saw heavy worm pressure throughout the season, says Balkcom.

“It may cost us a little more money on the front end spraying those worms, but it could pay off. We need to use a product that will be easy on our beneficial insect. It really hurts us when we kill the beneficial insects, conditions turn off dry, and we get spider mite pressure. We’ll have a hard enough time this year economically with peanuts, so we don’t want to get into a costly situation with spider mites.”

Conditions this past year also favored white mold, he says. “With high temperatures and dry conditions, a scattered shower or two would bring on a lot of white mold pressure, and peanuts would fall off right onto the ground. If you’ve got some insect damage on that pod, and you get a little rain late in the season, water will go into the pod and those peanuts will go Seg. 2. The peanuts are heavy, the stems are still good, and the picker blows it into the basket. It has two discounts – skin discoloration and meat discoloration. They’ll bring you $200 or $230 per ton in that condition.”

In trials conducted in 2015, Balkcom says there was no statistical difference in yields between using Cruiser Max or Thimet for thrips control in twin rows.

“We continue looking at subsurface drip irrigation. This past year, we had 6,200 pounds per acre under subsurface drip and 3,400 pounds per acre in non-irrigated peanuts. Since the drip tape is buried 13 to 15 inches deep, can we get away from doing deep tillage, which burns a lot of fuel and a lot of time. We planted single-row peanuts no-till and compared them to strip tillage, and we haven’t seen a difference statistically in two consecutive years.”

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