Georgia’s irrigated peanut crop looks good as harvest gears up, but the dryland crop poses some challenges with maturity dates and quality. Drought and heat hit fields hard this summer at crucial growing times. Peanut farmers need to harvest and handle the dryland crop carefully.
“Both the dryland and irrigated crops looked like they had potential with a little bit of help (from weather). But what we’ve found in the last three to four weeks is that that has diminished dramatically for the nonirrigated acres. We had not received any rain until the last week and a half (in Georgia’s peanut belt),” said Scott Monfort, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension peanut agronomist, who started the position Aug. 1.
About half of Georgia’s 585,000 acres of peanuts is irrigated this year. Those peanuts will do fine and likely great in some fields. The irrigated crop is maturing at a typical pace, or at about 140 days after planting. But Monfort figures even the yields on the irrigated acres will likely be less on average than last year, maybe a 5-percent reduction.
The dryland crop in isolated areas looks as good as irrigated, but those are rare places, he said. The dryland crop in Georgia took a hit in late July and into August when some major peanut-producing regions missed getting afternoon thunderstorms, receiving only a few inches of rain or none at all. August also saw 100-plus degree days. Some dryland fields will not be harvested. Half of the dryland crop will be poor, and not much can be done about it now. “We're not going to pull a rabbit out of the hat on those acres,” he said.
Georgia peanut yields took a hit during August. According to the Sept. 12 USDA crop estimate, Georgia’s average yield will be around 4,000 pounds per acre, or 250 pounds per acre less than what was predicted the first of August. Average yield in 2013 was 4,430 per acre.
Want access to the very latest in agriculture news each day? Subscribe to Southeast Farm Press Daily. It’s free!
Because of the drought and heat, the dryland acres are not maturing at a typical pace and judging digging times is not going to be easy. Fields will be on the early side due to lack of blooming in the latter part of growing season. “Growers will not be able to treat all non-irrigated fields the same. Maturity needs to be examined on a field-by-field basis and not as much on days after planting,” he said.
Dryland peanuts set a crop but went to about 110 days and shut down, and little else has been put on by drought-stricken dryland plants. Some of those acres have gotten rain and may carry out a bit more, but for the most part, those plants are done for the year. Some of the peanuts in these acres are coming loose in the hulls at 115 or 120 days.
Check dryland maturity now
Farmers don’t need to wait to 120, 125 or 130 days after planting to start checking peanuts for maturity; they need to be checking dryland fields now for signs of maturity.
The quality of the dryland crop is going to be tough, and growers are advised to handle irrigated and dryland peanuts separately. Dryland peanuts are going to be eyed hard for aflatoxins this year, more than in recent years.
Buying points are requesting growers put on their tickets whether the load was irrigated or dryland. And growers need to watch irrigated fields, too, and watch the dryland corners of such fields. It is not a good idea to mix those dry corners this year with the irrigated load. A few bad pods in a load can mark the whole load as Seg 2.
The question of whether to “push” a dryland crop a bit more before getting the digger in the field is a tough one right now. Some growers would like to see what more they could get out of the dryland acres. It’ll be a case-by-case basis, Monfort said. With good vines and if the pods look relatively good with no damage, a grower may push a few more weeks. But that field likely will need another fungicide application, and the grower is betting that rain will come. In most cases, a grower sitting on the fence about this decision is advised to hop down, crank up the digger, and get in the field.