Georgia went seven years without a fulltime Extension or research peanut entomologist. It finally has one now.

Mark Abney started June 10 as the new University of Georgia peanut entomologist. Southeast Farm Press ran up with him Sept. 11 for a few minutes of questions and answers. Here’s what happened:

Southeast Farm Press: Let’s get right to helping farmers. What do Georgia farmers need to keep in mind as harvest looms later in September and into October, late-planted peanuts in particular?

Abney: Overall, we’ve seen a relatively light insect pressure on Georgia peanuts in 2013, but as we approach harvest growers should know that insects and mites can still cause damage to the crop. The drier conditions we’ve had over the last couple weeks are excellent for spider mite development. These pests can reproduce rapidly when environmental conditions are favorable. Heavy infestations can severely damage peanut foliage at a time when we need to be maturing the crop.

It is still a good idea for growers to keep an eye out for foliage feeding caterpillars, too, such as armyworms and velvetbean caterpillar. Not only will these insects feed on the foliage prior to harvest, but if a field with high populations of caterpillars is dug, there is the risk that the caterpillars will feed on the newly exposed pegs. Fortunately as temperatures begin to drop and daylight hours shorten, our risk of insect damage declines.

SEFP: Georgia has been without a full-time Research or Extension peanut entomologist for seven years. Even though part-time Extension work was done, still a lot time lost on getting some solid data down to help farmers. What is your game plan getting started in the position?

Abney: Certainly a lot of things change in agriculture over seven years, and we have some pest management challenges that need attention. I’ve been talking with other members of the UGA Peanut Team, county agents, consultants and growers to get a handle on the insect issues that are of greatest concern. I also spend as much time as I can in the field making my own observations of what is happening on the insect front.

Some of the recurrent themes involve three cornered alfalfa hoppers, burrower bugs, and caterpillar pests. Right now I have a new graduate student, and I am in the process of hiring my team. The next step will be to get grant funding so that we can get started tackling some of these research questions. 

Peanut pest 2013 recap

SEFP: You started in early June this year at Georgia. Almost got a full season in already. Can you recap pest issue for the crop this year?

Abney: A large thrips flight occurred in late May, and they found plenty of peanut fields with young plants to land on and feed. We had plenty of moisture at that time, and most of the fields that experienced heavy feeding damage grew out of it pretty quick. We are now at the point where we will be able to determine if that damage had any impact on maturity or yield.

There were plenty of three cornered alfalfa hoppers in Georgia peanut fields this year. This is one of the pests that we really need to study to determine what impact it is having on the crop. Caterpillar pressure was generally light, and the wet weather kept lesser cornstalk borer out of the picture. The burrower bug is another pest that does not do well in high moisture conditions, and we do not expect to see a lot of burrower bug damage this year.

One insect that we are likely to see more damage from in 2013 than usual is the southern corn rootworm. This soil-dwelling pest prefers wet conditions and heavier soils. I’ve seen some rootworm damage in my test plots, and I have spoken with agents who report seeing damage. We will have to wait until most of the crop is out of the ground before we have a clear picture of rootworm damage levels.

SEFP: Where did you grow up and what were you doing before you came to Georgia as the new peanut entomologist?

Abney: I grew up in Bleckley County just outside of Cochran, Georgia. Before coming home to Georgia I was on the faculty at North Carolina State University as vegetable entomologist with Extension and research responsibilities. My work there was quite diverse as you might imagine with the variety of vegetables that are grown in the South, but I focused a lot of my attention on soil insect pests and recently on the invasive brown marmorated stinkbug.

SEFP: For you, is it Wolfpack or Dawgs?

Abney: This one is pretty easy…I bleed red and black. UGA and NCSU are great universities with excellent academic and athletic programs. I always root for both schools as long as the two are not playing each other. Go Dawgs!