With this year's planting delayed, or in some cases prevented by a record-breaking drought, the 2007 Georgia peanut harvest could stretch from Labor Day through Thanksgiving, says John Beasley, University of Georgia Extension peanut specialist.
“A minimal amount of harvesting already has begun,” said Beasley during the 2007 Georgia Peanut Tour held during the first week of September. “Peanuts that were planted on about April 20 are ready for harvest. But we have peanuts planted in this state from April 20 to July 1. We could be harvesting peanuts at Thanksgiving. The majority of this crop will be harvested at the end of September and the first couple of weeks of October if weather cooperates.”
In early August, Georgia growers experienced 10 days to two weeks of 100-plus degree temperatures, he says. “This amount of heat, in addition to the drought, has a significant negative effect on blooming, pegging, pod set and pod fill. It will create in the older peanuts what we call a ‘split crop,” says Beasley.
“There will be an interruption of fruit set and development that will show up on the hull-scrape maturity profile. If the ‘split’ or lack of pod development is too severe, it results in difficult decisions regarding when to begin harvesting,” he says.
Georgia growers planted between 510,000 and 520,000 acres of peanuts this year, he adds. “The original FSA reported acres was 511,733 which is just under 44 percent of the total U.S. acreage,” he says.
In the past several years, Georgia has planted about 45 percent of the total U.S. peanut acreage, says Beasley. “Obviously, it's very important to the U.S. peanut crop in general how we in Georgia do with our production and how much we plant,” he says.
In 2006, Georgia growers planted 580,000 acres, so this year's total crop is down slightly, he says.
“There will be a higher number of abandoned acres this year because of a drought that we've had from the early part of this year and continue to have in some areas of the state. Normally, we see about 5,000 abandoned acres. I've seen us plant 900,000 acres and I've seen us plant 495,000 acres. And when they show the planted acres compared with the harvested acres, there's always about 5,000 abandoned acres. This year, there will be higher abandonment, and there already has been abandonment,” says Beasley.
This year's peanut crop is behind in development, he says. “This is due to the early drought, continuing drought and intense heat that we've had in Georgia. Our county Extension agents have had to access a number of fields that obviously could not make because of the extremely dry conditions,” says Beasley.
The southwest Georgia region has been the hardest hit by drought. “But on the eastern side of the state, we're looking pretty good. We can see a lot of variability in the crop conditions across the state,” he says.
In the southwest corner of the state, says Beasley, producers have had to water many times just to keep the crop from going into stress.
“Growers there have irrigated from eight to 10 times at a minimum. It takes four or five hours to put out an inch of water over an acre of land. In 2004, it cost about $5.25 to put out an inch of water over an acre of peanuts. In 2005, it was up to $8, and last year, it was $12. These growers are having to water 10 times, and it's costing close to $15 to put out an inch of water because of diesel prices. It's a challenge in a year like this, even with irrigation,” he says.
Southwest Georgia has a very high percentage of irrigated crop acres, says Beasley.
“Statewide, we're probably down to a little less than 40 percent. A few years ago, our irrigated acres were consistently at about 50 percent or more. Now, it's between 35 and 40 percent irrigated acres,” he says.
The drought has had a great impact on Georgia's peanut crop, including increased insect pressure, he says.
“Lesser cornstalk borers can cause a lot of damage. This insect favors hot, dry weather and sandy soils. Not only are they feeding on the younger stems of the plant, but they're also boring into the pods, and that's when they do the most internal damage.”
Thrips pressure also has been heavy, he adds. “This is the tiny insect that feeds on the plant and transmits tomato spotted wilt virus. We had thrips injury early on, and then we had three-cornered alfalfa hoppers, leafhoppers, tobacco budworms and corn earworms. We've had insect problems for the past three years and we'll probably continue to have them,” says Beasley.
Palmar amaranth pigweed also has been a problem in some peanut fields, he says. “This weed has developed resistance to some of our herbicides.”
Tomato spotted wilt virus hasn't been as severe as first suspected, he says. “We thought it might be a bigger problem because of the heavy thrips pressure. Tomato spotted wilt virus is now becoming more severe in some fields. We're also seeing white mold because conditions are ideal for the disease.”
Earlier in the season, some growers began seeing injury to the foliage of peanut plants, says Beasley. This injury was seen where the herbicide 2, 4-DB was sprayed, especially with fungicides, he says.
“After a lot of walking the fields and investigating, we discovered this was a contamination problem. Some fields had fairly serious leaf shed. But for the most part, we were able to get through it.”
Looking over crop ratings for the past five years from the agricultural statistics service, 2003 was an almost perfect year for growing peanuts, says Beasley. “We set a record in our statewide yields, and conditions seemed perfect throughout the year. Eighty percent of our crop was good to excellent at the end of August 2003. Comparing the same period last year with this year, a smaller percentage of our crop currently is rated very poor to poor than in 2006. And more of this year's crop is rated good to excellent than during the same period last year. We are currently in a little better shape than in 2006.”
The Sept. 10 report from the National Agricultural Statistics Services has Georgia's peanut production forecast at 1.51 billion pounds, compared with last year's 1.58 billion pounds. As of Sept. 10, 54 percent of the peanut crop was rated good to excellent, 31 percent was rated fair, and 15 percent was rated poor to very poor.