“In some years, I grow a little dryland and a little irrigated. This year, I rolled the dice and irrigated 100 percent of it — there’s a lot of luck in farming,” said the Sumter County, Ga., producer during the recent Georgia Peanut Tour.
Others, especially in southwest Georgia and Alabama, have not been so lucky, with some growers not seeing more than a trace of rain in the last month and a half.
“It has been really dry here,” says Powell. “Everyone had good crop potential early in the year, and then the drought and heat hit us. We have dryland peanuts in this area that are pitiful — there’s no other word for it.”
But the crop that Powell calls probably the best he has had didn’t come without a price. “Irrigation pulled me through this year, but you have to add all of those expenses back into your production,” he says.
Whenever a peanut plant sets fruit, explains Powell, it needs at least 1 inch of water per day every six to seven days to make a crop. “This year, with the intensity of the heat and drought, we could put on an inch of water and the peanuts would be stressed in three days. In a normal year, after the peanuts are dug, it would take about four days to get the moisture level down to 18 percent, and then you’d still have to dry them down to about 10 percent. This year, they’re already down to 10 percent after three days,” he says.
In neighboring Webster County, Extension director Laura Griffeth says many of the dryland peanut yields in her county will be counted in hundreds of pounds rather than thousands of pounds. “In some spots, growers have had only four-tenths of an inch of rain in three months. We’re cautiously optimistic on some of our crop and hopefully have good insurance on the rest of it,” she says.
“The heat really has affected our crop this year,” says John Beasley, University of Georgia Extension specialist. “Temperatures of 95 to 100 degrees just knocked the bottom out of our fruit set. Very high temperatures reduce the plant’s ability to produce fruit, or the peanut pods, by causing pollen sterility. When a thermometer is reading 95 degrees in the shade, it’s much warmer down in the soil. When the air temperature reaches the upper 90s or 100 and above, it’s not uncommon for the temperature reflected from bare ground a few inches above the soil surface to reach in the 130s and 140s.”
How hot has it been? Beasley says maximum temperatures reached 95 degrees or higher during the 92-day period of June 1-Aug. 31 on 17 days at Tifton, 26 days at Attapulgus, and 24 days at Plains. This compares to six, 14 and six days at Tifton, Attapulgus and Plains, respectively, in 2009 when Georgia growers set a record-average yield of 3,510 pounds per acre.
USDA’s peanut yield estimate for Georgia from the month of September was 3,400 pounds per acre, a forecast many see as being overly optimistic.
“We don’t know where we’ll end up in terms of yield potential,” says Beasley. “The hardest hit areas in Georgia as far as lack of rainfall are in the southwest portion of the state bordering Alabama. Some of those farmers haven’t had rain in three to four weeks.”
Weather conditions also have contributed to pest problems, he continues.
“Resistant Palmer amaranth pigweed has especially been a problem in southwest Georgia. We’ve also had to battle a lot of Florida beggarweed during the 2010 growing season. Also, the weather conditions have been ideal for the rapid development and spread of the disease white mold, otherwise known as Southern stem rot or Southern blight.
“The intense heat put stress on the plants and the more widely scattered and frequent rain events that followed in late August were the perfect ingredients for white mold to spread. Fortunately, producers have a very good arsenal of fungicides to combat the disease, but even the best fungicides have struggled to keep down the disease pressure,” says Beasley.
Even though growers have seen other diseases this year, white mold has been the most difficult to control and will have the most negative impact on yield potential, he says. “We’ve also seen leafspot, nematodes, cylindrocladium black rot and tomato spotted wilt virus. Fortunately, tomato spotted wilt virus levels this year are the lowest we’ve experienced since we first began monitoring the disease in 1990.”
Insect populations also have been a major factor on peanuts in 2010, says Beasley.
“Since 2005, it seems as if each year, we end up battling one or more insect species that reach economically damaging levels. This year, a number of fields were treated for tobacco budworms, fall armyworms, beet armyworms, lesser cornstalk borers and spider mites. Almost every field had at least one of these pests.”
Approximately 90 percent of the peanut acreage in Georgia was planted in five cultivars that have been released over the past four years: Georgia-06G, Florida-07, Tifguard, Georgia Greener and Georgia-07W. Georgia-06G is estimated to be planted on 40 to 45 percent of this year’s acreage, followed by Florida-07 and Tifguard on about 15 percent each, and Georgia Greener and Georgia-07W on about 7 to 10 percent each.