Two questions remain concerning Georgia's 2005 peanut crop — will weather conditions allow for a timely harvest, and what will be done with all of the peanuts that potentially can be produced?

“The big question is will we have the kind of weather conditions we need to harvest this crop, like we had two years ago when we had clear days and low humidity,” said University of Georgia Peanut Specialist John Beasley during the recent Georgia Peanut Tour.

“The National Weather Service has increased its hurricane prediction to 15 to 18 tropical systems compared to the original prediction of 12 to 15. We'll have a good, high-quality crop if we get good harvest conditions. Maturity is the key when determining when to begin digging.”

As far as our growing conditions this year, Georgia producers saw very cold weather for the month of April, says Beasley. “We already plant a very high percentage of our crop — compared to the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s — in the month of May. During those years, we planted a third to a half of our crop in April. We couldn't have done that this year if we had wanted to. It was so cold, it was difficult to plant peanuts under desirable conditions,” he says.

After getting past the cold April, May began with dry conditions, he says. “It doesn't take long for the top 3 inches of the soil to dry out in some of our sandy soils. We can go from having too much moisture to having very little in a quick time. We did receive good rainfall beginning at about Memorial Day, and from that point on, we were delayed planting in some fields. We planted a very high percentage of our crop during the latter part of May, and we planted more than we'd prefer into June and towards the end of June,” says Beasley.

With the exception of some very high temperatures and dry conditions in mid-July, most Georgia growers have experienced good growing conditions, he says. But a lot can happen between now and harvest, he adds.

“When you consider when this crop was planted, and the way things are shaping up, it looks as though the week of Sept. 12 is when harvesting will really get started,” said Beasley in early September. “We'll be looking at a very scattered harvest season for some of these fields. You can count on peanuts being harvested in Georgia from Labor Day until Thanksgiving, and possibly after Thanksgiving.”

Typically, by mid- to late-October, growers are completing harvest, he says. But because of the lateness of planting the 2005 crop, some peanuts will be harvested near Thanksgiving this year.

As in most years, temperature and water have had a tremendous effect on peanuts in 2005, says Beasley. “A peanut plant, from a physiological standpoint, really prefers 86 to 90-degree temperatures. When you have those kinds of air temperatures, the peanut plant will have a higher percentage of blooms converted to pegs — fruiting is much better. Our average temperature in July and August was about 90 to 92 degrees. Below-normal air temperatures are one reason we've been blessed with a good crop for the past three years.

“Then there's rainfall — you must have water to make a peanut crop. A peanut crop requires about 22-plus inches of water in a season, and the majority of that is needed in June, July and August.”

Growers have seen some interesting pest problems this season, says Beasley. Due to wet conditions beginning in early June and persisting into July, many growers saw yellow peanuts in their fields, he says.

“A lot of this was the result of bacteria in the soil, moving nitrogen from the root zone. Whenever you have very wet conditions, nitrogen can't get to the root system. We told growers to be patient, that root systems will begin to function, and they'll eventually get the green appearance of the peanut plant. It caused a small amount of yield reduction but not much.”

As for tomato spotted wilt virus, this has been the worst year Georgia has seen since the late 1990s, says Beasley. “It hit us late this year. Most growers followed the tomato spotted wilt index and planted in May because conditions were not good in April. So we don't have a clear-cut answer for the amount of tomato spotted wilt virus this year, but we're still searching. We know that Georgia's tobacco crop was devastated this year by tomato spotted wilt virus.”

Throughout recent years, the amount of tomato spotted wilt virus pressure has lessened, he says. “We peaked out at about 12 to 13-percent in losses and $40 million in losses. After the risk index was introduced, we were able to get the levels back down. By 2001, we had gotten it back down to the levels of the early 1990s. This year, we expect to peak out higher than in 2002.”

Three-cornered alfalfa hopper also was a problem this year, notes Beasley.

“This is one that requires more research on our part. Our entomologists are working hard on this, and it's causing more and more problems for our growers. Threshold levels are difficult to determine. These insects have piercing, sucking mouthparts, and they pick a point on a stem and girdle all the way around it. The damage can be devastating, and it opens up the plant to other problems.”

The greatest growing conditions result in white mold or Southern stem rot, Florida beggarweed, and a lot of leafspot, he says. “Our growers have done a great job this year staying on time with their disease control programs. Because of cool, wet conditions early in the season, we're starting to see more CBR. And we saw some lesser cornstalk borers even when conditions were wet.”

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com