More than 500 farmers and others braved south Georgia temperatures hovering around the 100-degree mark for the recent Sunbelt Ag Expo Field Day held in Moultrie, Ga.

The annual event offers participants a preview of the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition — set for Oct. 19-21 — and an opportunity to visit one-on-one with university researchers and representatives from leading agricultural companies.

Extension specialists from the University of Georgia cotton and peanut teams gave updates on current crop conditions and their latest research efforts at the Sunbelt Expo site.

“Statewide, USDA reports that we have 1.33 million acres of cotton in Georgia this year,” says Steve M. Brown, University of Georgia Extension cotton specialist. “It rained in June, and our crop got off to a real good start. We’re now at a key time in terms of filling out bolls, and it’s a key time for getting more rainfall. We have what appears to be a good crop, at least at this stage.”

An issue that has surfaced recently that should concern Georgia cotton growers is that of fiber quality, says Brown. “There have been statements in the U.S. textile industry by merchants and mills about discriminating against Georgia cotton, and that has serious implications for us. We’re doing some work on that in a variety of ways, and some of that is done here at Sunbelt,” he says.

In 2003, says Brown, the cotton variety DP 555 was planted for the first time on a large scale in Georgia. This past year, about one-third of the state’s acres were planted in the variety, and that jumped to about two-thirds of the cotton acreage this year.

“We’ve done a lot of plant population studies in recent years, but none with this variety. We’re looking at DP 555 this year to see if yield is influenced by reduced plant populations. We’re also doing a Pix study with DP 555. It was a challenge last year to control and manage its height, and it’s shaping up to be the same way this year.

“I have eight different programs looking at how to control the height of this variety. We did a pretty good job last year with at least one of our programs. It didn’t have an impact on how much cotton we made. Height management is important in commercial situations, but it doesn’t always mean an increase in yield,” says Brown.

Extension Entomologist Phillip Roberts says the bulk of his work at the Expo revolves around boll-feeding bugs, more specifically stink bugs.

“We have several tests, and one is looking at different thresholds. Our current threshold is that we recommend treatments if 20 percent of bolls that are the diameter of a quarter are damaged. We get a lot of questions as to whether that threshold is too high, so we’re looking at lower triggers.

“Everything we’ve done to date would suggest that 20 percent is the correct threshold. We’re also looking at some general efficacy trials of various insecticides,” says Roberts.

Much has been written and said recently about hard lock in cotton, he says, and the potential of using fungicides to reduce the problem. “We know that stink bugs can cause hard lock, so we’re looking at the interaction between controlling stink bugs and using fungicides to see if we can understand what is truly happening there.”

Extension Agronomist Glen Harris is using the Expo site to look at various foliar fertilizers and their effect on yield and lint quality.

“Foliar fertilizer is a great way to supplement a good soil-applied fertilizer program. It doesn’t replace such a program, but it’s a good way to top off nutrients when you might have lost them from rain, or if you were late getting in the field to side-dress,” he says.

Harris says he’s looking at the “big three” nutrients — nitrogen, potassium and boron. He’s looking at a foliar potassium material from UAP, and he’s testing Helena’s CoRon, a controlled-release nitrogen. In addition, he’s looking at new boron fertilizers from UAP and SQM.

“Boron is interesting,” he says. “Every year, there are new boron materials — granular and liquid — with different percentages of boron. You have some with nitrogen, and some with other things in them. Every year, we’ve been testing them, and the good news is that I really haven’t found a bad one yet. They all work pretty well,” he says.

Some nutrients, explains Harris, could be affecting cotton lint quality. “We think there are some nutrients that might be affecting lint quality parameters on cotton. For example, potassium affecting strength and nitrogen affecting micronaire. We’re trying to compare these different nutrients and see if we can affect lint quality. We’ll run this cotton through the micro-gin at Tifton and make sure that nutrients aren’t contributing to our problems with lint quality.”

The University of Georgia peanut team is taking a closer look at the many peanut varieties now available to growers, says John Paulk, research technician.

“We’ve seen an evolution of peanut varieties,” says Paulk. “If you were planting peanuts in the 1970s, chances were you planted Florunner. GK-7 came along in the 1980s, and it was another good variety. But we didn’t have very many choices. In the 2004 Peanut Update, we have 12 runner varieties listed. All have different characteristics, and you probably can find one to suit your operation.”

To name only a few, he says, Georgia-03L is a large-seeded runner from the University of Georgia breeding program. It’s a cross between Georgia Browne and a Virginia variety. It has good resistance to tomato spotted wilt virus, and it grows early and fast, he says.

“It has a prominent main stem, similar to GK-7, making it much easier to dig,” says Paulk.

Georgia-02C is another university release with some resistance to CBR, he says. “The seed size is a little larger than Georgia Green, but maturity is similar,” he says.

From the University of Florida’s breeding program comes the Carver and Anorden peanut varieties, says Paulk. Carver has a similar seed size to Georgia Green but is earlier maturing. Like Georgia Green, it has good resistance to tomato spotted wilt virus.

Anorden is a high-oleic oil peanut with a larger seed size than Carver but with a similar maturity.

The peanut team also will be looking this year at a new digging technique that has been commonly used in north-central Florida, says Paulk.

“The reason behind ‘tenting’ is to reduce the heat on the peanut itself. We’ve made several modifications in the digger, including removing the front coulter. As the peanuts come across the rack, they fall on these long rods in the center which hold up the middle of the bed. The sides of the bed then fold under to become the bottom of a tunnel, which suspends the peanuts 2 to 4 inches from the ground.

“We let the vines dry down, and then we harvest the peanuts. Then, we put the peanuts on a trailer and let them dry down, which gives us more uniform drying rather than leaving them in the field. This should provide us with a better seed and improved edible quality.”

There are disadvantages to tenting, says Paulk. “It is not aesthetically pleasing to look at this in a field, because you don’t see any peanuts. It looks like a total crop failure once they’re dried. And we don’t know how this will work if we have inclement weather at harvest. We’ll simulate rainfall using irrigation and find out how it works. This practice also is being tried in Texas, and we’re trying it on our heavier soils in Georgia.”

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com