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As peanut growers in the Virginia-Carolina production belt move toward digging time there is a lot of uncertainty as to the amount of damage done to their crops by record summer heat and scattered cases of extreme drought.
South Carolina fared better
South Carolina has been the least affected by the combination of heat and drought among the upper Southeastern peanut-producing states.
Timely rainfall throughout the South Carolina peanut production belt has provided ample moisture in most cases and has helped reduce the damage done by extremely hot day and nighttime temperatures.
Chapin says, “For the most part we have been extremely lucky in South Carolina to avoid the most obvious and severe effect of high temperatures — drought stress. Drought stress not only directly reduces yield, but also causes some problems that we don’t even want to think about: Calcium deficiency, reduced weed control, lesser cornstalk borer, burrower bugs, aflatoxin contamination, and on and on.”
While peanuts can sometimes sit in the ground and produce a big crop, the risk is high for leaving them there in most years. Two years ago Clarke and Cliff Fox had a nine-month crop that produced over 5,500 pounds per acre in Capron, Va. The Fox brothers are veteran peanut farmers and neither recommends that kind of waiting.
The big question for peanut growers in 2010 is likely to be whether the crop will be early or late. Reduced pollination points toward a late harvest season, while rapid plant growth and development in hot weather points toward an earlier than usual harvest.
The truth probably falls somewhere in between. Even though peanut development is driven by heat unit accumulation, there is an upper limit. Eighty-six degrees is about ideal for peanut, and temperatures above 95 actually start to slow plant growth. So hotter weather only accelerates peanut development up to a point.
“Despite the prolonged high temperatures, most of the fields I have looked at have about what we would expect in a taproot crop at this point in the season. Overall, I think the crop looks good and “on schedule”. Even in fields where pod development might be lagging, we still have time to make a very good crop if we protect it from leaf spot,” Chapin says.
Veteran North Carolina State University peanut specialist David Jordan says peanuts in the Tar Heel State have been negatively affected by the heat and dry weather.
“Dry conditions and high temperatures most likely will contribute to lower yields compared to both 2008 and 2009. However, we learned that peanuts can yield well even with limited water (2008 peanut crop) and this may hold true for the 2010 crop.