Having received more rainfall this summer than in the past four years, peanut producers in most areas of Georgia are predicting a bountiful harvest from the 2001 crop.

“We've had more rain this summer than we've seen in several years,” says Neil Hagerson, a Sumter County grower who farms near Plains. “We're hoping to have a good harvest. We've made better than two tons per acre in the past several years, and we're hoping for 4,500 to 5,000 pounds per acre this year.”

Hagerson, who grows 700 acres of peanuts, likes what he sees from his first year of planting in twin rows. “We're hoping twin rows will improve our yields. We planted in seven-inch twins, trying to get six seed per foot in both rows with a seeding rate of about 130 pounds per acre. I think we'll be pleased with the twin rows,” he says.

Most of Hagerson's peanuts are planted on a four-year rotation, with two years of cotton and one year of corn followed by peanuts. “We planted on about May 20. We received a lot rain in June, and it was June 17 before we applied our Cadre and Storm for weed control.

“More rainfall has meant more leafspot than usual, but we've stayed on a 14-day schedule to control leafspot disease. We sprayed the first time with Bravo/Tilt, the second time with Bravo, the third time with Montero, the fourth time with Bravo, the fifth time with Abound and the sixth time with Bravo. We'll probably make another spray or two with Bravo before we dig the peanuts,” said Hagerson during the recent Georgia Peanut Tour.

Stephen Dozier, who farms in southwest Georgia's Calhoun County, says it's been a “pretty good growing season” for peanuts. “The season started off just right. It turned off dry at planting, but it was raining almost every day during the first part of June, and we thought we could do no wrong,” he says.

Weather conditions were drier and hotter in August, he adds, and he has irrigated continuously to finish off the crop. About two-thirds of Dozier's 400-acre peanut crop is irrigated.

It's difficult to predict yields, says Dozier, because some areas received more rainfall than others. “I have some dryland cotton in one area that'll probably pick about 600 to 700 pounds per acre. But about 10 miles up the road, we'll probably pick about 200 pounds. We're hoping for yields of more than two tons per acre on our irrigated peanuts and about 3,000 pounds per acre on dryland,” he says.

The overall condition of the Georgia peanut crop is the best it has been in quite a few years, says John Beasley, University of Georgia Extension peanut specialist.

“There are fields in Georgia that have suffered this season and have received below-normal rainfall,” says Beasley. “However, the overall condition of the crop — this late in the season — probably is the best it has been since 1985.”

Georgia growers entered the 2001 season following several years of drought, notes the agronomist. The extended drought had lowered water levels dramatically. Below-normal rainfall early in the year triggered the enacting of the Flint River Drought Protection Act, which pays farmers in the Flint River basin not to irrigate their crops.

March, however, turned out to be a very wet month for most locations in the Georgia Peanut Belt, says Beasley. “Most areas received double the rainfall for the month of March, but this did not end the drought. According to climatologists, it would take many more months of above-normal rainfall to effectively end the drought. Several years of below-normal rainfall could not be made up in one wet month,” he says.

The wet conditions in March, while helping to replenish water sources, caused problems in some areas, says Beasley. Farmers were delayed in planting corn, and land preparation for other crops also was delayed for several weeks.

The months of April and May were as dry as March had been wet, especially in south Georgia, he says. “A few isolated areas did receive good rainfall. For the most part, however, growers without irrigation were forced to plant under very dry conditions.”

Very few peanut acres were planted in April, with morning temperatures dipping into the upper 30s for several days after Easter, says Beasley. “Most growers were waiting to plant during the first three weeks of May to lower their risk of tomato spotted wilt virus. Sixty-five percent of Georgia's peanut crop was planted in the first three weeks of May. There would have been even more if growers without irrigation had had enough moisture to plant.

“Seed quality was very good this year and stand-related problems were at a minimum. The dry weather did trigger some problems with crown or charcoal rot — a dry weather disease.”

June was wetter than normal due to Tropical Storm Allison, says Beasley. “Some of the eastern portion of the Georgia Peanut Belt did not receive some of the rain from Allison, but the majority of the peanut-producing counties benefited greatly from the rains. One downside from the storm was that many growers were delayed in applying fungicides, thus creating some early season foliar disease concerns.”

Normal to slightly below-normal rainfall was the rule in July, he continues. “Even though rainfall wasn't excessive, the showers did tend to be timely, and much of Georgia was spared a lengthy dry spell. As a result, we ended July with most of the crop in good condition with regard to moisture requirements.”

Widely scattered showers from Tropical Storm Barry fell on Georgia during the first part of August, says Beasley. Temperatures during June, July and August were near normal, with highs in the lower 90s, he adds.

“This has benefited the crop tremendously, as normal to slightly below-normal temperatures result in more efficient and productive pod set and fill period. Growers have spent most of their time trying to stay on a fungicide schedule. Conditions in July and August were ideal for diseases such as white mold.”

Tomato spotted wilt virus hasn't been a major problem this year, says Beasley, because most growers have done everything possible to alleviate the risk of the disease.

“Since a very high percentage of this crop was planted in the first three weeks of May, and approximately 90 percent of the acreage was planted to Georgia Green, the bulk of this year's crop was ready for harvest beginning shortly after Labor Day and will extend into the middle of October.”


e-mail: phollis58@mindspring.com