Georgia peanut producers appear to be on the verge of harvesting a record-high yield this year.

But the trick, says Extension Peanut Agronomist John Beasley, is “getting it in the barn.”

Barring any late-season catastrophes, growers can’t help but to be excited about prospects for the 2012 crop, he says.

“The crop conditions this year are so much better than last year,” said Beasley during the recent Georgia Peanut Tour. “At this same time last year, we were concerned, but we ended up with the third highest yield on record, at 3,520 pounds per acre, just 40 pounds short of the record-high.”

The August estimate from the state’s agricultural statistics service was 3,650 pounds per acre and the September forecast was bumped to 3,900 pounds per acre.

“The September estimate surprised some of us. The trick is, can we get this crop in the barn? There’s a lot left to do,” says Beasley.

Following a year in which Georgia peanut producers planted the fewest acres since 1926 with only 470,000 in 2011, those same producers turned around and planted more than 720,000 this year says Beasley.

“Combine that with very good growing conditions and we go from a year in which the entire peanut industry had very legitimate concerns about running out of peanuts into a year in which we may well exceed the average carryover needed for the domestic and export markets in any one year,” he says.

One of several differences between this year and last year is the planting date for peanuts, says Beasley.

“During winter meetings this past year, we emphasized that growers needed to plant more of their crop early in the season. Prior to the mid-1990s, we planted a minimum of 20 to 25 percent and as much as 40 to 45 percent of our peanut crop in Georgia in the month of April.

“One of the ways to reduce our risk of tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) was to plant the crop later. So for 15 years, we were encouraging producers to plant late because their lowest risk to TSWV was if they planted on about May 10 or later. As a result, during the past 15 years or so, we’ve been planting 15 to 25 percent of our crop in June.”

As growers planted more of their peanuts in June, he says, especially mid- to late-June, it pushed the crop later in the fall, and the cooler nights lowered the maturation process.

“We were not reaching optimal maturity and grade in a lot of our fields. We were hurting our yield potential by concentrating our planting in a much narrower window, so this year we encouraged earlier planting.”

Move toward earlier planting

This year, almost three times more acres were planted by May 1 compared to the previous year, he adds. “In the five, 10 or 12 years prior, we were running less than 5 percent of crop planted in the month of April, and we needed to reverse that. Getting this crop planted earlier was a major change this year.”

Georgia’s peanut crop this year has consistently been rated good to excellent, says Beasley, with only 3 to 4 percent rated poor to very poor. Seventy-five percent was rated good to excellent in late September.

“Last year at this time, almost one-fourth of our crop was rated very poor or poor, but we ended up with the third highest yield on record.”

One factor contributing to the improvement in yields has been genetics, says Beasley, and the cultivars that currently are available to producers.

Also, weather conditions were nearly ideal. “Although the 2012 peanut growing season started out with very dry conditions in the winter and early spring, frequent summer rain events over most of Georgia’s peanut-growing region — combined with below-normal maximum and minimum temperatures — resulted in more closer to ideal growing conditions than we’ve experienced since 2003. In fact, the growing conditions in 2012 are very similar to 2003, and the cultivars we are planting have a better genetic yield potential.”

Seventy-five percent of Georgia’s acreage this year is planted in the GA-06G cultivar, says Beasley, and other outstanding options are available.

If growers can harvest this year’s crop in a timely manner, there is a very good chance the record-high average yield will be broken, predicts Beasley.

Pest problems this year have been either minimal or controlled well, he says. “Weed control has been very good to excellent statewide, and the credit for that goes primarily to Palmer amaranth pigweed. This weed has been such an issue in the state that growers are paying closer overall attention to their weed control programs, and the result has been good management.”

The major insect problem, he says, has been the three-cornered alfalfa hopper throughout most of the season, tobacco budworms during early to mid-season, and soybean loopers and caterpillars in late season.

“Only a small percentage of Georgia peanut fields reached treatable levels. Diseases were the most common pest problem with a typical mix of leaf spots and stem rot or white mold, which are common in wet years.”

phollis@farmpress.com