Could lightening strike twice in the form of record peanut yields again this year? It's not likely, says Kris Balkcom, Auburn University Extension peanut agronomist.
“I don't think we'll make 3,300 pounds per acre again this year, especially in Alabama, for several reasons,” said Balkcom during the recent East Central Alabama Cotton, Peanut and Soybean Tour, held in Lee and Macon counties.
“You never have two good years back to back — I don't care what crop it is,” he says. “Also, it was very wet early on, and we lost a lot of peanuts and a lot of stands. We're looking at a few thousand acres now that were drowned out by wet weather. In addition, half of this crop was planted early or on time and the other half was planted late. Those peanuts planted the first week to 10 days in June should be alright. Some that were planted into the end of June, the first of July, we're not so sure about.”
Later planted peanuts might not receive enough heat units to make a crop, adds Balkcom.
Alabama's peanut crop generally looks good, he says. “We have about 170,000 acres compared to 194,000 acres last year's record crop. Because of last year's crop, the pipelines are full. But a lot of contracts are now being offered. At the beginning of the season, there was no incentive because we had such a large acreage and yields. Now, the acreage has dropped 33 percent in the United States.”
Many growers are being offered contracts of $400, said Balkcom in mid-September. “A lot of growers have signed contracts in the last couple of weeks, because we have another crop that looks just about as good as last year. Even if we make 3,000 pounds per acre, there still will be a lot of peanuts out there. It probably will be better putting money in your pocket in the fall versus putting it in the loan.”
Auburn University Plant Pathologist Austin Hagan says if peanut growers in the state spray their crops up to two weeks before harvest, they should be fine. “We've had a lot of rain this year, and we've seen a lot of diseases in peanuts around the state,” he says.
At the state's plant breeding unit, he says, there was a fair amount of early leafspot. “Whenever you have peanuts behind soybeans, you'll probably see some white mold, and it has been a good year for that disease, especially with plenty of moisture and high nighttime temperatures,” says Hagan.
At this point in time, he said in mid-September, growers probably are at their sixth or seventh fungicide application. “The main thing is to stay on schedule, and put on your leafspot spray. If you're using a product like Folicur, you're probably up to or just past your last application of that material,” he says.
Alabama growers haven't seen any tropical storms to date, says Hagan, but it's a possibility they need to be aware of at this time of the year.
“They could really disrupt your leafspot programs, as well as harvesting, and the result could be that you have to leave your peanuts in the field an extra week or two. If you know a tropical storm is coming, and you spray three to five days before it's on top of you, you'll probably be alright. If it has been seven to 10 days since you've put on a leafspot application, you might want to go ahead and put something on your peanuts like a generic chlorothalonil, three fourths to 1 pint per acre as a holdover treatment to make sure the leafspot doesn't get ahead of you while you sit there and wait to harvest your peanuts,” he says.
There have been years, says Hagan, when peanut growers get one or two tropical storms, especially in the counties near the Gulf Coast. “We've actually had peanuts lost to leafspot disease as a result of these situations. We simply couldn't get back in the fields and spray them, nor could we dig them.”
It has been a very active insect season for peanut producers, says Ron Weeks, Auburn University Extension entomologist. “We've had a lot of foliage feeders this year. Fall armyworms have been a major problem in some fields, in really high numbers and they have been difficult to control. As we wind down, from now on through the rest of the season, we generally see a decline in the number of foliage feeders except for a couple of species — velvetbean caterpillars and loopers. They're typical end-of-the-season problems. We still could see fall armyworms hanging around for a little while,” he says.
Peanuts, says Weeks, can tolerate a fair amount of defoliation. “On the other hand, we're looking at a unique situation this year due to late planting. If your fields are later planted, then you may need to be a little more conservative with your defoliation. You'll need to hang onto that foliage as long as possible and try to mature the nuts in a minimum amount of time. Thirty to 40 percent defoliation on peanuts that were planted in June probably wouldn't be too good. We probably need to be on the conservative side of our defoliation estimate,” he says.
If growers get into a dry period at the end of the season, they might have spider mite problems, says Weeks.
“We really don't want to see that on peanuts at the end of the season. They're very difficult and expensive to control. If left uncontrolled, they can completely defoliate and kill peanuts. We avoid that by minimizing the spray applications that can flare spider mites,” he says.