Weather-based peanut program provides growers with versatile tool

Implementing a fungicide application program that is both effective and cost-efficient is a constant battle for many peanut producers. But researchers at Auburn University are refining one program that may help win the war on leafspot disease — the AUPnut Leafspot Advisory.

“The program was designed to improve the timing of fungicide applications for control of leafspot disease on peanuts,” says Austin Hagan, Auburn University Extension plant pathologist. “Our objective was to reduce the number of fungicide applications without jeopardizing disease control or yield potential of the crop.”

Instead of the 14-day calendar schedule most widely used by producers, this prescription treatment program uses environmental conditions as application indicators. “The grower uses weather forecasts and rainfall over five days to lengthen or shorten the time between fungicide applications. An advisory is created based on the number of rain events in a 24-hour period, and it uses the five-day forecast to predict rain probability for each day.”

Though not a difficult system to employ, Hagan says the program's biggest challenge is monitoring daily rainfall at each field. “Farmers don't have time to check rain gauges everyday, but that's where Doppler Radar comes into the picture.”

Joining forces with the Agricultural Weather Information Service, Inc., (AWIS) Web site, located in Auburn, Ala., researchers created a way for farmers to readily access rainfall totals for their fields using global positioning satellite coordinates. “All a farmer has to do is contact AWIS, subscribe to the weather data service and provide GPS locations for their fields. Then they can locate each field and monitor the rainfall at each site electronically.”

With more than 35 registered users and an average of 4,000 to 7,000 hits per year, Web site coordinators say the response to the program has been more than satisfactory. “There's nothing on there that would be of any interest to anyone who wasn't a peanut producer,” says Ellen Bauske, executive vice president and directory of marketing at AWIS. “It's a fun project where we can deliver something of value that peanut growers can get to.”

From the comfort of their desks, farmers can access the Doppler Radar, forecasts for rain, the AU Pnut Leafspot Advisory, a general leafspot advisory, a lesser cornstalk scouting advisory and a harvest advisory. “Through wet and dry years, this is the single, most important place for all advisories, though we believe AUPnut is one of the gemstones of our operation.”

Bauske says recent technological advances have increased grower awareness of the benefits of using the Internet as a management tool. “There's a lot more growers online now than when we started eight years ago. Still, we try to keep the graphics and presentation data simple for telephone line access.”

While AWIS eliminates one of the challenges faced by promoters of AUPnut, the problem of applying the fungicide in a timely fashion in front of the rain continues to plague researchers such as Hagan. “In order to implement AUPnut, growers need ready access to applicators. Ground rigs can't cover the ground necessary in a day. Also some areas are impossible to access.”

Growers in southeast Alabama have proposed one solution to the application problem — spray rigs towed by four-wheel-drive ATVs, Hagan says. “They can get anywhere at anytime. This also provides a method of quick fungicide application to large acreages.”

Variation in potential savings is another reason some producers are skeptical of the program's efficacy, Hagan says. “In a dry year, this program could save farmers three applications, but in other years, you might save only one or two applications. The potential for fair return limits the attractiveness of the program.”

The time and effort required for program implementation may also deter farmers, according to Hagan. “Farms with limited resources may not have the manpower necessary to schedule applications and insure that equipment is where it needs to be. Also managing larger fields add to the complexity of the program.”

Hagan tells farmers the best way to determine if AUPnut is right for them is to start on a small scale. “First try the program in one field where you can get equipment in on a regular basis. If it works, then expand the program to other fields.”

For more information on registering your farm with AWIS, contact

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