South Carolina peanut growth shifts in size, location

Though the “Top Ten List” for Peanut Production developed by South Carolina Peanut Specialist Jay Chapin has played a key role in the State’s growth in peanut production, he contends the fate of peanuts is still largely determined by getting timely rainfall in July and August, and not getting too much rain in September and October.

With 2006 plantings expected to be within 10 percent of last year’s crop, weather will have its usual big impact on the state’s agricultural community.

Though the frenetic growth the peanut industry has seen in South Carolina in the past four years has leveled off in 2006, centralization of the industry continues to grow in the middle part of the state.

Peanuts have increased in South Carolina from less than 10,000 acres when the peanut program ended to 60,000 acres last year. Approximately two thirds of the peanuts grown in South Carolina are Virginia types, and that trend is expected to continue in 2006, according to Chapin.

The tendency used to be for peanut growers in the south part of the state, bordering Georgia, to plant mostly runners and in states closer to North Carolina growers tended to plant primarily Virginia types. Now, Chapin says that is not so much the case anymore.

“Back when South Carolina had only 10,000-11,000 acres of peanuts, acreage was pretty much split north and south, with north being Virginia types and runners being grown in the South. Now, we have some growers up in the Pee Dee area near North Carolina who grow 100 percent runners and growers in the south end of the State who grow 100 percent Virginia type varieties,” Chapin notes.

The South Carolina peanut belt is about two counties wide, running from north to south across the upper coastal plain, with the hub of production being in the middle of the state. “In 2002 there was no peanut production in Orangeburg or Calhoun counties, but last year 46 percent of production was in these two counties,” Chapin explains.

This area has all the right ingredients for production, according to Chapin. A combination of well-dranied soils, cotton or corn for rotation, good managers and enough irrigation to make a difference. Primarily a cotton production center, the management skills of growers in these counties has been the most significant factor in the growth of peanuts there..

Among the farmers trying their hand at peanuts in the new hub of production is South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers. Commissioner Weathers planted his third crop of peanuts in 2006 on what had been dairy pastures for many years.

Many of the growers who have started planting peanuts are long-time cotton farmers. Peanuts and cotton make a good rotation, primarily because peanuts are not a host for Columbia lance or the rootknot nematode that can severely limit cotton yields.

Chapin points out that a cotton-peanut rotation also helps with weed control. With more and more concern about Roundup resistant weeds, peanuts in a cotton rotation breaks the cycle for one crop.

Chris Main, who is a weed scientist at Clemson, working at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center, recommends pre-emptive weed management programs to reduce the risk of resistance problems in a Roundup monoculture. Primary weed control in peanuts is with Dual and Valor chemistry, which fits well into weed management programs that can break the Roundup monoculture.

Chapin cautions that breaking the weed control cycle alone isn’t enough reason to switch to peanut production. “You have to have well-drained land and the right soils, plus a little irrigation helps, when making the decision to grow peanuts,” Chapin explains. “Right now, we are nearly 80 percent dryland peanut production, so we are very vulnerable to drought” the Clemson Peanut Specialist notes. Adding that the success of peanut growers in the Orangeburg area has generated some renewed interest in adding irrigation.

South Carolina and Virginia have traded places in peanut production rankings since the 2002 crop year. In 2002, Virginia produced 75,000 acres of peanuts, while South Carolina produced 11,000. Last year Virginia dropped to 25,000 acres and South Carolina gained to 60,000 acres.

Much of the decrease is reported to be due to higher cost of disease management in Virginia, but Chapin says it is a misconception that disease pressure is light in South Carolina. It is different, he agrees, but points out that peanut growers in South Carolina pay an extremely high cost to control white mold. “We have significant white mold issues on farms that have never produced peanuts. Anywhere soybeans were grown over a number of years tends to promote high levels of the disease,” he explains.

“We have a temporary edge on new land, and that helps with leafspot and other diseases, but that advantage will disappear if we don’t maintain at least three-year rotations,” Chapin adds.

In South Carolina, most growers make five or six fungicide applications. The first two are going to be for leafspot, beginning 30 to 45 days after planting. “On any peanut land, we are going to make additional fungicide applications at 60-75-90 and 105 days for leaf spot and a minimum of two of these will also be for white mold,” Chapin explains.

Late leafspot resistance to Folicur has been a prickly issue for South Carolina growers the past two years. “Late leafspot has been a big problem for our growers in recent years — to the point that we have to include some chlorothalanil product with Folicur, when it is used for both white mold and leafspot management,” the South Carolina specialist notes.

Because soil disease pressure is so high, few growers in the state depend solely on weather forecasting models. “We adjust our fungicide timing based on weather forecasts, in an attempt to get soil fungicides applied before a rain,” Chapin points out.

The high percentage of Virginia type peanuts grown in South Carolina puts state growers in a situation that requires high yields to be profitable. The Virginia type varieties grown in South Carolina, primarily NCV-11, are excellent varieties, but these were developed for Virginia and North Carolina conditions, which can be dramatically different than those in South Carolina.

For example, Chapin explains that the most common Virginia type varieties are very susceptible to leafspot and what we call white mold (southen stem rot), which are less common diseases in North Carolina and Virginia, but very much a problem in South Carolina. Runner type varieties generally have much better resistance to leaf spot and white mold.

Another disease advantage of runner type peanuts is the level of resistance some of these varieties have to tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV). In South Carolina, thrips, which vector TSWV, is severe enough, regardless of the virus, to cause economic damage to peanuts. So, growers must have effective thrips control regardless of the virus threat. We use a modified version of the virus risk index developed by University of Georgia researchers.

Both Temik and Thimet do a good job of controlling thrips. Under heavy virus pressure Thimet (phorate) has an edge. University of Florida research indicates that phorate increases the plant’s resistance to spotted wilt disease.

Another trend in South Carolina peanut production is no-till planting. Currently, over 40 percent of the peanut crop is planted directly in cotton or corn stubble. Some growers use a cover crop, but generally growers avoid that extra expense, according to Chapin.

Chapin’s Top Ten List has become a guidebook for peanut producers in South Carolina. Britt Rowe, who won the 2005 South Carolina Yield Championship, attributes Chapin’s guidelines as being one of the primary reasons he was able to win the award.

Based on the Top Ten List, mid-June (first bloom) is a critical time to apply landplaster for Virginia type peanuts. Better early than late is a suggestion Chapin makes, because calcium from landplaster must get into soil solution, and needs rain to do any good. “We haven’t had any calcium deficiency problems even on the big peanuts from too much rain, but we do have lot of problems with too little rain.”

Many South Carolina growers have had good results from calcium they get from fossil fuel plants. It is clearly a good source, and growers have grown good peanuts with these calcium products from power plants, like the huge hydroelectric plant at Santee-Cooper Reservoir in south-central South Carolina. It is a dry calcium sulfate material that comes in bulk supply. Chapin points out that the source of calcium isn’t as critical as getting it on the ground and into soil solution by the time peanuts bloom.

In June, growers have to be ready to get into full swing with their fungicide program, Chapin says. “We tell them they can use a pint of Bravo in with Cadre. If they do that, they can follow up with a pint and a half of Bravo product in 45 days. If they don’t do that, and their first fungicide application comes 45 days after planting, they should start with Tilt-Bravo,” the South Carolina Specialist says.

Though peanut researchers use a Hobo Weather Station to record data and have used the computerized system to monitor soil temperatures and schedule irrigation, on the Edisto Research farm in Blackville, S.C., growers tend to use one of several rule-of-thumb systems based on 1.5 inches of water per week minus rainfall amounts for that same time period. A modified version of the 1.5 inch per week rule-of-thumb was tested by University of Georgia researchers, and when compared to an Irrigater Pro computer driven system, the rule-of-thumb system was comparable.

“The bottom line for South Carolina peanut growers, most of whom are growing Virginia type peanuts, is that they have to produce high yields to be profitable. As peanut production and peanut producers mature in South Carolina, the Clemson scientist is optimistic that yields can be maintained over the long-term but it all goes back to timely management and being fortunate enough to get moisture at the right time, he stresses.

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