Virginia peanut growers got the $600 per ton contracts they have been seeking to increase plantings, but new guidelines for the use of Vapam, and questions as to the availability of Temik, has put any further acreage growth in jeopardy.

Implementation of new Federal regulations for use of Vapam has created a furor among Virginia peanut growers. Most acreage, some estimate over 90 percent, is already under contract. Most of the peanut contracts were signed before growers knew about the new guidelines for Vapam.

The high contract prices had the desired effect in some areas of the Carolina-Virginia peanut belt. In other parts of the region, even at $650 a ton, the risk of growing peanuts doesn’t add up to cotton at anything close to a dollar a pound or corn at $6 a bushel. Whether $650 a ton is enough to offset more stringent guidelines earmarked for Vapam implementation in 2012 is questionable.

“A lot of people in southeast Virginia signed contracts early, so I think acreage in our area will be up a little maybe — I don’t see any decrease in acreage,” says Suffolk, Va., peanut grower John Crumpler.

“Had growers not signed the early contracts, I think there may have been some decrease in acreage — and there may be some loss in acreage in future years,” he adds. In our area of southeast Virginia, I don’t know of anyone who planted peanuts in 2010, who won’t be planting them again in 2011,” he added

The rules with Vapam make it tough to use it on peanuts, but on land highly susceptible to cylindrocladium black rot (CBR), it has been a standard treatment for disease control for many years.

New regulations require extensive training for use of respirators, posting of land and other Federally-mandated regulations. This will make it difficult to use Vapam.

Crumpler, the 2009 Peanut Profitability winner, says he will use Proline and seed treatment fungicides to protect his peanuts from CBR.

Came down in December

“The guidelines for Vapam use came down in late December, but didn’t really become well known until after most people signed contracts. Now, a lot of growers are going to want Bailey and Sugg peanuts and other varieties with some resistance to CBR to offset the risks involved with growing peanuts without Vapam under them,” Crumpler says.

Due to EPA re-registration of products containing methyl bromide, chloropircrin and metam sodium in December 2010; fumigant applicators are faced with new regulations for this growing season. This means for products like Telone C-17, Vapam, Cholorpic or Terrogas, growers will need to comply with these new regulations immediately.

To meet the new requirements, applicators will need fumigant management plans, respirators and even a self-contained breathing apparatus.

Veteran Virginia Tech Plant Pathologist Pat Phipps says the new guidelines are not what growers want and certainly not a good thing for Virginia peanut production. Reaction to guidelines has not been good, but Phipps says most of this comes from a lack of understanding of the guidelines.

The label for Vapam use is a thick, intimidating document, but Phipps says a high percentage of it deals with things that most Virginia peanut growers routinely do. For example, the respirators required are fairly basic self-contained devices that farmers, even homeowners, should have as a precaution when handling many types of chemicals.

Despite an array of public meetings and personalized offers for helping farmers obtain and learn to use these respirators, only a handful of Virginia growers, as of late February, have signed up for respirator assistance.

Another part of the Vapam use guidelines requires growers to have a Drager Device. This piece of equipment essentially monitors air quality. It can detect fumes from Vapam in ultra-low volumes measured in parts per billion.

“Even with such sensitive measuring equipment, I’m not sure Vapam can be monitored because of the way peanut farmers use the material,” Phipps says. “I’ve worked around Vapam for many years, and I just haven’t seen any problems with it,” he adds.

Despite the need for monitoring Vapam use in peanuts, Phipps says growers need it and can still use it. He says the guidelines currently in place should not deter Virginia growers from growing peanuts.

Identify the problem areas

The veteran Virginia Tech scientist says it is imperative that growers know which parts of their farm are most likely to have CBR problems. In areas of a field, or in whole fields with heavy CBR pressure, they will have to make some precise decisions as to what variety to plant, especially if they don’t use Vapam.

Because of its susceptibility to CBR, Champs is likely to lose popularity as growers try to offset the loss of Vapam, due to the tighter use regulations.  Champs, released in 2006 by Virginia Tech, has replaced NC-V11 as the top Virginia type peanut in the Virginia-Carolina belt.

Maria Bolota, Virginia Tech assistant professor and head of the Peanut Variety and Quality Evaluation (PVQE) Program at the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Suffolk, Va., says growers shouldn’t be so quick to abandon Champs.

With Vapam, Champs performed similar to Bailey and Suggs in her research plots. It’s unfortunate, she says, but without Vapam some growers will plant Bailey and Sugg instead of Champs. However, if they choose to adhere to the new regulations, Champs is still an excellent varietal choice, she adds.

Last year approximately 900 acres of Bailey seed were planted for grower use along with 500 acres of Sugg. How many seed was produced under extreme drought conditions in 2010 isn’t clear, but there will likely be a big demand for the new varieties and also likely supply will be short.

Bailey seed have been built up since the variety was released by the North Carolina State University breeding program in 2008. Seed supply should be good, but replacing Champs on all the acres affected by CBR and Vapam may be too much too quick.   

Sugg is the newest Virginia-type peanut selected as part of a program to develop cultivars with multiple disease resistance. It has an alternate branching pattern, intermediate runner growth habit, medium green foliage, and high contents of fancy pods.

In testing in North Carolina, it has averaged approximately 43 percent jumbo pods and 44 percent fancy pods, and extra large kernel content of approximately 48 percent.

Sugg is partially resistant to resistant to the four most common diseases in the Virginia-Carolina peanut production area: early leafspot, cylindrocladium black rot (CBR), sclerotinia blight (SB), and tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV).

Sugg was released in 2009. Seed supply was limited in 2010 and will likely be similarly limited for the 2011 season.

Uncertainty over Temik availability for 2011 is another concern for Virginia peanut growers, Crumpler says. There are all kinds of rumors about distributors not being able to sell it because of legal issues. If Temik isn’t available, the Virginia grower says that’s one more strike against increasing peanut acreage.

The seed treatment business is brisk, as distributors scramble to find fungicide-treated seed. Getting CBR tolerant peanut seed and getting that variety coated with the desired fungicide is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces missing. The missing pieces are mostly related to price.

The ripple affect of Vapam and Temik problems will likely be a return to longer rotations, and to rotations that include corn.

Crumpler says he will double his cotton acreage this year, increase his peanut acreage slightly and keep corn in his rotation. The loser in acreage in his case will be full-season soybeans. “I’ll keep my double-crop beans behind wheat, but low yield expectations for soybeans just don’t work out in my operation,” he says.

rroberson@farmpress.com