Peanut diseases lurking in South Carolina

South Carolina peanut growers are facing a year with little government support, no contracts as of early February and many uncertainties in input costs. Yet they still turned out in over-flow numbers to see and hear the latest in peanut production and marketing information at the annual South Carolina Peanut Meeting.

Organizer, master of ceremonies and heart and soul of South Carolina’s resurgent peanut industry, Jay Chapin, gave the large crowd an update on variety tests conducted at the Edisto Agriculture Research and Education Center.

Chapin, an entomologist by training and peanut and small grain specialist by necessity at Clemson University, says a big problem with peanut varieties is that South Carolina has growing conditions and soils more similar to Georgia than North Carolina, yet over 80 percent of the peanuts grown in his state are Virginia-types common to North Carolina and Virginia.

“We are growing varieties developed for North Carolina and Virginia and are having to adapt these varieties to our conditions,” Chapin says. Apparently, South Carolina growers are doing quite well, having tied Mississippi for top production honors with a statewide yield average of 3,900 pounds per acre.

“We need better varieties to keep our production levels high. We don’t need more ‘me too’ varieties that give us the same levels, or lack thereof, of disease resistance,” Chapin says.

Much of the peanut ground in South Carolina had never been planted to peanuts prior to the early 2000s. Much of that land is now in its second or third season of production, and the potential for disease problems is ever-increasing.

“We are sitting on a time bomb using varieties that have little or no resistance to white mold. Our growers are going to have to address the problem and the most efficient and economical way to do that is to plant varieties with built-in genetic resistance to the disease,” Chapin adds.

White mold is caused by the fungi sclerotium rolfsii. White mold, also known as southern stem rot and southern blight, is a common and often destructive disease of peanuts. In selected fields, disease-related losses have exceeded 40 percent to 50 percent of anticipated yields.

Development of white mold in peanuts is clearly weather related. However, recent research indicates reduction of years out of peanuts is a contributing factor to development of white mold. In South Carolina, more peanuts often translates into fewer rotation acres available and subsequent increase in frequency of peanut use and increasing white mold problems.

One of the most promising varieties for South Carolina, though bred for North Carolina production is NO381T, which was recently released as Bailey. “All our current Virginia-type varieties are terrible on white mold resistance, but this new variety gives us a new tool,” Chapin says.

In tests at the Edisto Agriculture Research and Education Center in Blackville, S.C., Bailey was grown in the same test as the runner variety GA03L, which has excellent disease tolerance. Under almost identical growing conditions and disease pressure, Bailey was just as good as GA03L, the South Carolina specialist says.

“Bailey was just released in 2008 and seed supply will be very low in 2009. In our tests this variety has shown high yield potential, a very bright hull and extremely good resistance to white mold and tomato spotted will virus.”

NO3091T is another promising variety. It produces a bigger kernel than its sister variety Bailey. Both new peanut varieties produce an extremely large plant, which can be a problem at harvest time, if not managed properly.

In the South Carolina tests, Bailey produced the highest overall yield in 2008, with 6,966 pounds per acre. Champs, a relatively new variety from the Virginia Tech University breeding program was second at 6,755 pounds per acre. Ga08V was close behind with 6,709 pounds per acre.

Chapin points out that growers shouldn’t discard proven varieties just to plant something new. In the South Carolina trials, for example, older, proven varieties Gregory, Phillips and NCV11 all produced over 6,000 pounds per acre. It is important, however, to know their relationship to diseases and avoid planting highly susceptible varieties in fields with a history of soilborne diseases.

AT-VC2, released in the early 2000s by Agri-Tech has consistently performed well in South Carolina and is a recommended variety for state growers. It has smaller seed size, making it somewhat limited in demand from shellers. In fields with increasing white mold pressure, AT-VC2 is less susceptible to white mold than other popular Virginia-type varieties available to South Carolina growers.

Champs, released three years ago by the Virginia Tech breeding program, looks like the best choice among the larger-pod Virginia type varieties available for South Carolina growers, Chapin says. Despite its many good attributes, Champs is highly susceptible to white mold.

During the meeting, University of Georgia Plant Pathologist Tim Brenneman gave the 400 or so growers in attendance an update on night application of fungicides. In general, nighttime application of fungicides for managing soilborne peanut diseases has proven beneficial. Nighttime application for leafspot and other foliar diseases were not as successful, the University of Georgia researcher noted.

Growers heard similar stories from long-time peanut advocate Tyron Spearman, Dell Cotton, executive director of the Virginia Peanut Growers Association, and Marie Fenn from the National Peanut Council. The central message was: We have too many peanuts in the supply chain.

Brad Boozer, executive director of the South Carolina Peanut Board presented the annual statewide yield championship to Delano and Ricky Kneece. The father and son team grew a whopping 5,954 pounds per acre on 452 acres.

Riverside Farms received a regional award for 4,820 pounds per acre on 796 acres as did Pondville Farms with 5,137 pounds per acre on 89 acres.

Kneece, who farms with his father, Delano Kneece in Pelion, S.C., is a former Peanut Productivity Award Winner and placed second in the National Corn Growers Association 2008 Yield Contest in the irrigated, no-till-strip till category.

Despite a less than glowing outlook for peanuts in South Carolina in 2009, growers continue to turn out in record numbers for the annual peanut meeting. It is a tribute to Chapin and his associate James Thomas to have such a large turnout of farmers and farm-industry personnel for the meeting.

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