The peanut industry throughout the United States is undergoing major adjustment. These adjustments may include the type of peanuts grown, the selection of inputs, and certainly the way they are marketed and sold.
One of these adjustments includes the geographic areas where peanuts are grown. Growers in new areas are stepping into the peanut production arena and determining if there is a future in peanuts on their farm. The learning curve for many growers has been quite steep, but a number of growers are pleased with their initial experience.
In the North Carolina-Virginia production area we have seen a very large shift in acreage and production areas in the past two years. Production in Virginia has dipped significantly with many of the marginal peanut soils taken out of production.
The story in North Carolina has not been quite as severe, but there has been a modest decline in acreage in the typical northeastern production counties. More importantly, there has been an increased production in many of the southeastern counties that have a high percentage of good peanut soils.
These counties near the South Carolina border have followed the same pattern of increased production that we've observed in South Carolina in recent years.
The yield in many of the new areas of production in the southeastern counties has been quite good. This would be expected due to the nature of the soils and the absence of previous production in most locations. However, one question that is frequently asked is the future pest problems that will emerge or increase in importance as production continues to increase, more acres are present in specific areas, and fields are planted to peanuts again and again through the years as part of a typical rotation.
There is little question that when a “new” crop is produced in an area that has seen little acreage in the past, there is a “grace” period when pest pressure may be minimal. History has proven that in many instances pest pressure and problems will increase through time. The logic of this is relatively easy to understand. This typically applies to all pests including weeds, diseases, and insects.
What will we observe for peanut pests in North Carolina as we see a shift in some of the acreage to the southeastern counties? Most pest problems are somewhat easy to predict, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be prepared for a surprise or two. For the purposes of this article I will stick to my area of expertise — the insects — but we will undoubtedly see shifts and increases in some weed and disease problems as well after several years of new peanut production in certain areas.
I think we will even see an impact in some of our traditional production areas of the northeastern counties in North Carolina. For example, as production in some of the heavier, “stiffer” soils is reduced, the threat from southern corn rootworm as a percentage of the total production area may actually be reduced.
In the new production areas I think we may see a shift away from the southern corn rootworm as the major soil pest of concern to new peanut growers in the southeastern counties. The lighter, sandier soils are certainly more likely to be attractive to pests such as the lesser cornstalk borer.
This pest thrives in hot dry conditions and was only a problem in the northeastern counties under some fairly severe drought conditions. It is possible that the sandier nature of the soils in a typical field in this part of the state may lend itself to more frequent problems with the lesser cornstalk borer. The threat of drought-like conditions may be more significant in these areas.
Another emerging problem that has been observed only in a few fields in North Carolina, but much more frequently in South Carolina, is the burrower bug. This pest has become a relatively consistent threat in South Carolina and as production in North Carolina shifts closer to the state line we may see more serious problems with this insect.
We will keep a close eye out for this pest as peanut acreage increases in the southeastern portion of North Carolina.
What does all this mean to peanut growers in the Virginia-Carolina production area? It means that as the dust settles on where peanuts will be grown and the production practices that are used, we may well see some changes in the pest problems we encounter. It serves as a constant reminder that nothing really stays the same and we need to be current on products and their use, current pest concerns, and constantly update our knowledge by taking advantage of educational opportunities. This always has been and will continue to be one of the secrets to success.