I saw it happening, but I didn’t know what I was looking at. It turns out that neither did anyone else. What am I talking about? The collapse of peanut fields in Florida late in the 2017 season.
It was a strange thing to behold. The field is one I pass on my way to town. Being that I’m a peanut editor, I’m always going to look at the peanut field instead of our local small-town race track on the other side of the road.
One day the peanuts were a little yellow, but it had been raining. I didn’t give it another thought because peanuts can look that way in water-logged soils.
“When the soil dries out, they’ll be fine,” I thought. They weren’t. They got more yellow and started to die back. What in the world? Was it a deficiency? A toxicity? A spray tank cleanout issue? Maybe it was a deficiency that led to severe leaf spot disease? Whatever it was, it was happening quickly.
In 20 years at this job, I’ve looked at a lot of peanut fields, but I’m not an expert. It was only later that I learned that even the experts, long-time Extension agents and the university researchers, didn’t know what was causing the decline either. The symptoms, late-season yellowing and leaves with distinctive marginal leaf necrosis with stunting of plants, were happening in fields across several counties in Florida. Although not all fields; fields closer to our farm were normal.
In December, peanut scientists met to discuss possible reasons for the sudden decline, and although the various explanations were plausible, it was agreed that there were no definitive conclusions. However, it did provide ideas that can be tested in an effort to find the answers.
As 2018 gets underway, about all we can do is hope for a more normal year with good crop conditions and put the 2017 collapse in the rearview mirror, knowing that we’ve still got some of our best people working on it.