In stark contrast to last year, peanut plantings throughout the lower Southeast in 2010 are running pretty much on time, and in line with the five-year average. In 2009, for the first time in many years, planting was delayed due to wet fields, forcing much of the planting into June. But that hasn’t been the case this year.

“We’re in pretty good shape right now,” said University of Georgia Extension peanut specialist John Beasley during the first week of June. “There have been a few delays due to isolated dry spots, but we’re about 77 percent planted, and it looks as though growers will continue to get into their fields and finalize planting.”

Conditions are definitely better than at this time last year, he says, when during a rainy two-week period in May, growers had to shut off their planters. “Last year, we were rained out and had to stay out of the fields. We ended up having to plant a fair amount of our peanut crop in June, so we’re looking good this year. We received really good rainfall throughout the state during the first week in May, and we jumped in and got peanuts planted quickly.

“It was cooler than normal in April, and then we received rainfall during the first part of May. After that rainfall, planting conditions were about as good in May as we’ve seen in some time, although there were a few stand issues where growers planted ahead of those heavy rains in May,” says Beasley.

Georgia is apparently not alone in the good progress its growers have made in planting peanuts this year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, as of May 30, the U.S. crop stands at 81-percent planted. That’s compared to a five-year average at that same time of year at 77 percent. Last year, the crop was less than 70-percent planted at the same time.

Most of the cultivars being planted by growers now have much better levels of resistance to tomato spotted wilt virus than Georgia Green, says Beasley. “So when soils warmed up in April, and in the locations that had good moisture, we were encouraging producers to go ahead and start planting some of their acreage in late April. There was no need to delay, especially with cultivars like GA-06G, FLA-07, Tifguard, GA-07W and Georgia Greener. All of these varieties have good resistance, so we told growers to go ahead and get them in. If they were planting Georgia Green, we told them to hold off until later, in that low-risk window of the Peanut Disease Risk Index or Peanut Rx,” he says.

After growing the majority of their peanut acreage in the Georgia Green variety for several years, most growers now have made the transition to some of the new cultivars, and they have a year or two of experience under their belts to see how these new offerings perform in the field.

One way of estimating which cultivars were planted this year, says Beasley, is to look at data from the Georgia Crop Improvement Association and from the Alabama and Florida seed groups to see which cultivars were planted last year to produce this year’s seed supply.

“This isn’t necessarily an exact method of determining the percentage of cultivars planted, but it does give us a trend,” he says.

According to these numbers, 36 percent of the acreage planted in seed production last year for registered seed for this year was in GA-06. Seventeen to 18 percent was in FLA-07, and 14 to 15 percent in Tifguard. Georgia Green accounted for 10 percent of the acreage and GA-07W and Georgia Greener — which are in the early stages of seed increase — accounted for about 5 percent each.

“So looking at the top three, you’d say that 65 to 70 percent of our acreage might be planted in GA-06, FLA-07 and Tifguard. This depends, of course, on the actual production in those fields where the cultivars were grown and how the shellers distributed it. They could allocate more or less, depending on demand. There was a huge demand for GA-07W and Georgia Greener, so every pound of seed produced that was planted back into seed production definitely went to growers’ fields.”

As producers have transitioned from planting a majority of their acreage in Georgia Green to planting a mix of the newer varieties, several changes have been noted, says Beasley. “The one thing that has really jumped out at us is the yield potential. Last year, for example, we had ideal conditions for white mold or Southern stem rot to spread. We had hot, dry conditions in mid- to late-June, and then we had frequent rainfall events throughout July and August. Even GA-06G, which doesn’t have as good resistance to white mold as some of the other cultivars, performed very well. These new cultivars seem to have significantly better yield potential than Georgia Green.”

In addition, in trials conducted in dryland fields, some of the new varieties performed better in non-irrigated conditions, especially large-seeded ones like GA-06G and GA-07W. “They out-performed Georgia Green in dryland situations,” says Beasley.

Another difference in the new cultivars, he adds, is that they bring variability with their different characteristics. For example, says Beasley, we know that GA-07W has a level of resistance to white mold that has not been seen in the past. Tifguard is the first variety with truly good resistance to peanut root-knot nematodes, he says.

“Another thing we’ve learned is that most of these varieties — at least four of them — have much larger seed sizes, and therefore we’re planting more pounds per acre. We’re still trying to learn and conduct research to see what the calcium requirements will be on these cultivars. We’ll know they’ll require a different seeding rate and that they’ll have a higher calcium requirement.

“We’re thinking if we can adjust the seeding rate down a little, that we can still have the yield potential. We feel confident we can do that as long as we keep it between five and five and a half seed per foot of row as opposed to six. We shouldn’t suffer any yield reduction. And we’re still trying to fine-tune the calcium requirements. We’re still in a learning curve with these cultivars. Even with the high yields we saw this past year — setting a state record — we feel we did not maximize yield potential on these cultivars.”

Last year was a surprise for many growers. Even with dreadful harvest conditions, Georgia peanut producers set a record average yield, and much of that success is being attributed to the planting of new cultivars.

Could the events of last year cause complacency among growers, thinking that the new varieties will perform well even under less-than-ideal conditions, and perhaps with less management?

“I don’t think our better growers will ever take anything for granted,” says Beasley. “They’ll work their tails off to maximize yield potential regardless of how well the cultivars perform. There might be some who feel they can plant these peanuts, and it won’t matter as much if they get behind in their fungicide sprays or other management practices, but that would be a mistake. Some growers might get lulled into a false sense of security.”

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com