South Carolina peanut farmers are expected to see a nearly 12,000-acre increase in peanut area this season on the strength of a $498 contract, according to the state’s Extension peanut specialist.

Most of the increase is coming in the newer areas of peanut production, specifically, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties, says Jay Chapin, Clemson University Extension peanut specialist. South Carolina could plant 30,000 acres of peanuts this season.

“Calhoun and Orangeburg counties went from zero peanuts just two years ago to where they’re now the major peanut production area of the state,” Chapin says.

Most of the production is Virginia-type, fueled by a $498 contract.

In the first full year under the new peanut program, acreage from Virginia and North Carolina shifted to South Carolina. Palmetto State farmers planted some 18,500 acres of peanuts in 2003.

“We were expecting peanut acreage to go up about 6,000 acres in 2004 anyway and when the contract price came out, we had a greater increase,” Chapin says.

The new peanut program not only brought acreage to South Carolina, it also gave farmers incentive to build infrastructure. Just last year, five new buying points were built. Three of the buying points are in Calhoun and Orangeburg counties. In some cases, groups of farmers built the buying points. “Our peanut acreage is still very small on a national scale, but in a small state, it is a significant boost to farm income,” Chapin says.

“We’ve got excellent managers who want to diversify their cotton operations,” Chapin says. “They have what it takes to raise peanuts: well-drained land, enough cotton or corn to rotate, excellent management skills, and at least some irrigation to reduce risk.”

In working with new peanut growers over the past six years, Chapin says that “good farmers are just good farmers at whatever they grow. A first-year peanut farmer can do as well managing the crop as anyone.

“We’ve got a recipe that works well for our area,” Chapin says, “but like most recipes, you have to add water.”

The South Carolina Coastal Plain has been very susceptible to drought for the five years prior to 2003.

“The greatest asset we have had in developing local production information has been the research base from major peanut states,” Chapin says. “We get a lot of support from the folks in Tifton, Ga., and North Carolina State University in particular.”

Chapin and James Thomas developed a Top 11 list of items for new peanut farmers to consider. This list and a production guide for South Carolina conditions are available at http://virtual.clemson.edu/group/peanuts/.

(1) Pick fields with well-drained soil. Avoid fields with recent soybean history and eliminate soybeans from the rotation in the future. Sustainable peanut production requires a minimum of two years of cotton or corn in between peanut crops.

(2) Soil test. Zinc can severely stunt or kill peanuts. Raise pH to reduce toxicity risk in high zinc fields. Check soil calcium levels. The target is at least 600 pounds per acre and calcium to potassium ratio of 3:1 or higher. Correct with lime if pH allows; otherwise, increase the landplaster rate on Virginia-type peanuts.

(3) Get them inoculated: Liquid in-furrow inoculants have been most consistent and are less likely to stop-up. Inoculants are live bacteria; handle with care to keep them alive.

(4) Reduce tomato spotted wilt virus risk: Plant resistant varieties (only moderate resistance is available in Virginia-type varieties). Avoid April planting. The first week of May still has increased virus risk, but large acreages will need to begin the first week in May. The optimum planting window is May 5-May 25. Shoot for four plants per foot of row (need six seed per foot or row or at least five foot on large-seeded Virginias. Control thrips with Thimet or Temik. Strip-tillage also reduces TSWV.

(5) Establish and maintain weed control. The first flush of weeds may need a Gramoxone treatment before Cadre application (30-35 days after planting). If Valor is used, it must be applied within two days of planting, preferably watered in.

(6) Give the peanuts calcium. All Virginia-type peanuts should get 300 pounds per acre of calcium (1,500 pounds of landplaster) at blooming. Calcium should be available in the pegging zone when the first pods begin to form.

(7) Prevent foliar and soil disease. Although peanuts on new land should be relatively free of soil diseases, there can still be significant risk, particularly in fields with a soybean history. The crop has to be protected from a complex of soil and foliar diseases with a preventative program. Make sure a white mold treatment is applied no later than 60 days after planting.

(8) Irrigation management. Peanuts are an indeterminant, drought-tolerant crop, but irrigation can be critical to maximize returns from calcium and pesticide investments and to control soil diseases.

Irrigation reduces insect damage and prevents aflatoxin.

The critical water-use period is during pod fill, approximately 60 days to 110 days after planting. A soil temperature model (Irrigator Pro) or a rule-of-thumb method can be used to schedule irrigation.

(9) Check for worms. Corn earworms, followed by fall armyworms, feed on peanuts primarily from the last week of July through August. Velvetbean caterpillars sometimes strip peanuts in the lower part of South Carolina in late September through October.

Don’t overreact. It’s not cotton. Fully lapped, unstressed peanuts can tolerate eight worms per foot of row. The threshold is four worms per foot on unlapped or stressed peanuts. Lesser cornstalk borer has the most potential of the insect pests to do damage to the crop, but this pest can be managed with irrigation.

(10) Tailgate the digging date.

Medium-maturity varieties reach harvest about 135 days after planting under typical South Carolina growing conditions. But many practical considerations figure into when the first field is dug.

Before digging, consider vine health, acreage, equipment availability, when you started planting and weather predictions.

Use a tailgate hull-scrape method to sort pods into color piles and determine which fields should be dug first.

Rules of thumb: When the orange and brown-black pods combined are 65 percent of the sample, the field is not at optimum maturity, but should at least make a 70 TSMK grade. When the brown-black pile is the biggest pile on the tailgate, the sample is fully mature. But practical considerations sometimes prevent waiting on full maturity, particularly in the first field to be dug.

(11) Digger operation. At this point it is still possible to mess up a great crop. Staying on the row with the digger is a must. Matching digger ground speed to shaker speed, digger running depth and soil conditions are also critical.

e-mail: cyancy@primediabusiness.com