The 2006 Georgia peanut crop could have the dubious distinction of being the most expensive crop in the state’s history, says John Beasley, University of Georgia Extension agronomist.

“In my opinion, this is going down as the most expensive peanut crop in Georgia’s history,” says Beasley. “In talking with our economist, we figured it cost about $12-plus per acre inch to irrigate this crop. In 2004, that same cost was $5.25, so it has more than doubled in two years.

“A lot of growers — those who irrigated five to seven times — reached a point of diminishing returns, where there was no way they were going to make back the money they were putting into the crop.”

In 2004, most producers irrigated only once or twice, he says. In 2006, however, many farmers irrigated six to eight times at 1.5 to 2 inches per application. Those producers invested as much as $150 to $200 per acre in irrigation costs alone, he adds.

In addition, says Beasley, the cost of controlling insects was much higher than usual this year. “A lot of our growers are accustomed to putting out a single thrips treatment early in the year. But this year, they’ve had to make anywhere from four to six insect treatments,” he says.

Cold weather in mid- to late-October forced growers to dig peanuts before the crop was ready, says Beasley. “That will hurt us in both yield and grade. We were in the position of encouraging our growers to get the crop out around rain showers and cold snaps. We saw low temperatures pushing the freezing mark in mid-October, and there was frost in a lot of places. We were not able to allow this crop to mature as we had hoped.”

Dry, hot conditions during the spring and summer shut down many fields, he says, and prevented the peanuts from blooming and pegging.

In 2005 the major insect pest for Georgia peanut growers was the three-cornered alfalfa hopper, he says.

“We were prepared for another heavy infestation in 2006. However, this year we saw an unprecedented outbreak of cutworms, an insect that feeds on the lower branches and on developing pegs and pods. They are difficult to control because they stay just below the soil surface during the day and move up into the plant late in the day and in the evening,” says Beasley.

In some fields, the cutworm population reached 12 or more per foot of row, he says. Numerous fields were treated twice for cutworms. “In the past 25 years, there have probably not been more than 10 fields treated for cutworm whereas this year, most fields across the state received at least one insecticide application,” he says.

The lesser cornstalk borer continued to be another difficult pest to control in 2006, notes Beasley. “We always expect an outbreak of lesser cornstalk borers when we have hot, dry conditions. The trouble this year is that once the outbreak occurred, it was extremely difficult to get the insect under control. They are a soil-inhabiting insect pest that will burrow into the lower lateral branches or feed directly on the developing pegs and pods. “The insecticide used for controlling lesser cornstalk borers is Lorsban granules, which requires moisture to activate the chemical. Unfortunately, the non-irrigated fields infested with the pests could not be treated until there was adequate moisture to release the insecticide in the granules. Until that moisture occurred, they just kept on feeding.”

Early in the season, Georgia growers saw significant damage from thrips, he says. “Thrips also transmit tomato spotted wilt virus, which led us to expect another major problem with the virus. However, the drought conditions appeared to have overshadowed those problems, and it was later in the year before we began seeing significant levels of the virus in some fields.”

As for weeds, Beasley says Palmer amaranth was the predominant problem in many fields, with Florida beggarweed also coming on strong during the latter part of the season.

“The official yield estimate from the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service had our average yield at 2,500 pound per acre as of Oct. 1, but I think that’s still too high,” he says. “At this point, we’d be fortunate to see 2,200 pounds per acre. I’ve walked a 60-acre field where, in late September, yield potential was practically zero — at 135 days, there were no peanuts in the field. But I’ve had some county Extension agents tell me that they have growers who will average more than 5,000 pounds per acre, so that’s the range we’re seeing.”

Peanut grades, for the most part, are averaging in the upper 60s as compared to the mid-70s, says Beasley. “At a loss of $5 per percentage point, that’s a total loss of $30 to $35 per ton. Many of these peanuts were just not able to reach maturity this season. These peanuts usually have an SMK of about 75, but that hasn’t been the case this year.”

It’s too early to tell what affect this year’s peanut crop will have on acreage in 2007, he says. “Even when we knew yields would be lower, contracts stayed at around the $355 range. I believe next year’s acreage will be dictated by the contract offers that are made in late winter and early spring. If contracts stay at about $355, growers may decide they’ll be better off growing cotton or corn.”

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com