Georgia's 2004 peanut crop won't be one of record-breaking yields like last year, but it'll be a pretty good one, especially considering that much of it was made between hurricanes.

“It has been an up and down year in Georgia,” says University of Georgia Extension Peanut Specialist John Beasley. “Fortunately, we've seen more ups than downs.”

The planting season in April and May started off dry in Georgia, he says, causing delays in some areas. Weather conditions quickly changed in June and July, with plentiful rainfall getting the crop off to good start, says Beasley.

“It looked as though we would be in a similar situation to last year, which was a record-breaking crop for us, with growers averaging 3,450 pounds per acre. But then weather conditions turned off dry, from about mid-July to the second week of August,” says the agronomist.

Even during the rainy period during June and early July, some parts of the Georgia Peanut Belt — mostly the north-central and northeast region — remained dry, he says.

“Finally, on about Aug. 10, the weather broke for us, and we received some good general rainfall. From that point on during August, we were in pretty decent shape with rainfall,” says Beasley.

With September came the back-to-back hurricanes, Frances and Ivan, followed by the remnants of Hurricane Jeanne. “Tropical Storm Bonnie brought some rain to our area, but Frances and Ivan made the biggest impact. Frances brought a lot of rain to Georgia. But most of our growers thought Frances did some good for the crop.

“Some areas were relatively dry and needed rain prior to Frances. Even though Frances delayed harvest on some of our earlier planted peanuts, we saw more advantages than disadvantages from the storm,” says Beasley.

Most of Georgia's peanut crop was in good shape following Hurricane Frances, he says. “For those dry areas, the first 1.5 to 2 inches of rain soaked in and did us a lot of good. But some places received from 6 to 12 inches, and a lot of that ran off. Some of our fields were under water, and that probably delayed our earlier harvest,” he says.

One week following Frances, Hurricane Ivan came ashore in Alabama, affecting parts of Georgia, says Beasley. “We saw a few tornadoes from Ivan, but we didn't get nearly the amount of rain we received with Frances. Some locations in the western part of the state received about 2 inches, and we got about an inch in Tifton.

“We had rainy and cloudy weather between the two hurricanes, so there wasn't much digging go on. We went for about two to three weeks with extremely wet weather, and farmers weren't able to get into their fields and start harvesting. In the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, we had clear, dry conditions and were seeing a lot of harvest activity.”

The last storm of September — Jeanne — brought up to 8 inches of rain to some parts of south Georgia.

Seventy to 80 percent of Georgia's peanut crop was planted during the first three weeks of May, says Beasley, with a large portion of the acreage being planted during the second and third weeks.

“So we knew that around the middle of September would be the target date when we would need to begin harvesting. We didn't start on schedule, so we're playing catch-up.”

For the most part, he says, most Georgia peanut producers have experienced very good growing conditions this year, he adds. “They haven't been the ideal conditions we saw last year, but they've certainly been better than many of the past 15 to 20 years. The crop estimate of August and September puts the average yield at 3,300 pounds per acre for Georgia. That may be too high. The delay in harvest already has had some effect on yield potential, and disease pressure has been heavy during the latter part of the season.”

Late leafspot disease has been severe, he says, and tomato spotted wilt virus has been much worse this year than in 2003.

“It's still too early to tell what changes will be made in the University of Georgia Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus Risk Index based on what has occurred this year. My guess is that some of these newer varieties will be added to the index for next year.”

Georgia producers probably grew more peanut varieties this year than in any past years, says Beasley. “This probably is more varieties than we've ever seen in any one year. We estimate there are at least 14 different varieties planted in Georgia, anywhere from a few acres to several thousand acres.

“There's a tremendous amount of diversity out there, and we're still on a steep learning curve on the performance of some of these newer varieties. We're not sure about their disease resistance package, how they'll stand up under different weather conditions, and their yield potential. Some of them obviously have been tested in small plots and variety trials.”

There has been some speculation in the industry that the Georgia Green variety might be losing some of its resistance to tomato spotted wilt virus, but Beasley doesn't think that's the case.

“It's clear to us that it still has the same level of resistance. Georgia Green might not look as good as some of the more resistant varieties that have been released, but I don't believe it has lost any of its resistance.”

As for other peanut pests this year, Beasley says growers have seen heavy pressure from three-cornered alfalfa hopper, for the second consecutive year. Also, growers have seen CBR in some fields.

Farmers in Georgia who grow both peanuts and cotton are keenly aware of the state's lint quality issues, says Beasley. “Our Extension cotton team — in their educational programs — have talked to producers about altering their cotton production schemes so they can get their cotton out of the fields earlier and improve fiber quality. Some growers planted their cotton earlier this year.”

Some of the best laid plans, however, have been disrupted this year by weather. “Some growers may have had plans to harvest their cotton and then move to peanuts. But the hurricanes have thrown that for a loop. They know that peanuts are more sensitive to the timing of harvest, so they go ahead and harvest the peanuts anyway.”

Many Georgia farmers grow both commodities, says Beasley, and they're aware of the consequences if either one isn't harvested on a timely basis.

“The data continues to show that if we plant peanuts too early, we'll get hammered with tomato spotted wilt virus. And if growers are delayed in harvesting their cotton, they get hammered by poor fiber quality. We're trying to reach a happy medium by encouraging or educating growers on what they can do to manage their cotton crop and go ahead and get it out of the field early, maybe before peanut harvest. But it's hard working around a hurricane every week.”

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com