A Trying Year

Drought, disease and questions about maturity hover over growers at the end of 2023.

⋅ BY AMANDA HUBER ⋅

Instead of any one thing plaguing the peanut crop this season, it was nearly all possible problems. A cool, wet start. Soaring heat in June. A white mold inferno by August, and a harvest season that still had some areas chasing heat units, which were not in the forecast. It was the type of “times to try men’s souls” to borrow a historical phrase from Thomas Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense.”

University of Georgia Extension peanut specialist Scott Monfort says most of the Georgia crop was planted later into May, but the seedlings did not grow much due to the wet and cool weather, putting the crop behind. Still needing heat units late in the season, temperatures were getting cooler.

“I was hoping that we would remain warm in October but that was not the case,” Monfort says. “The mild weather has made it almost impossible to determine the best time to dig.”

Monfort says a lot of growers were frustrated about the weather, yields, grades and other problems with the season, including determining when to dig.

“We make the best decisions we can based off the information from the maturity board and what we have seen in the past, but it’s not an exact science,” he says. “We will be off for some fields because of weather, Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus, leaf spot and other issues.”

An Excellent Year For White Mold

Perhaps the fall seems cooler because the summer was so hot, which was perfect weather for soilborne disease in mid-to-late July. Rain, plus warm temperatures, was a good environment for white mold, says UGA plant pathologist Bob Kemerait.

Extreme heat and high humidity were perfect conditions for a white mold explosion.

“The combination of rain and warm daytime and nighttime temperatures is a good environment for white mold,” Kemerait says. At that point, white mold was smoldering on peanuts, but it was about to ignite.

White mold, white mold and more white mold is how Bill Tyson, Bulloch County, Georgia, Extension coordinator described the situation in August.

“I have seen white mold showing up in peanut fields with a vengeance in Bulloch County in the last week or so,” Tyson says, while reminding growers to stay on schedule with their fungicide program. “The wet weather combined with hot and humid conditions is an excellent recipe for white mold and leaf spot.”

Although no fungicide program will eliminate individual “hits” of white mold, an effective fungicide program stops it from spreading. This year, all fungicide programs were tested.

Late-Season Drought Affects Alabama

Auburn University Extension peanut specialist Kris Balkcom says the hot, dry stretch during the end of the growing season played a role in the early maturity of some peanuts in the field and will likely affect crop prices for Alabama producers. But it was a cool spring that pushed planting back and had the crop behind from the start.

Some Alabama farms had to dig what they could because of a late-season drought, but not as much Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus was found in the state.

“We seemed to start the planting season a month behind. The cooler temperatures, coupled with the wetter conditions, also took a toll on seed where some germinated but didn’t have the vigor to prevail and establish a stand,” he says. “The weather also hindered us from timely applications of herbicides and fungicides. Some places experienced heavy downpours with rainfall amounts ranging from 12 to 18 inches over a two-week period during June.”

On a positive note, Balkcom says he did not observe the amount of TSWV this year that he saw last year. However, by late season, a significant drought had gripped the state.

“Across the lower half of the state, some peanuts are fine and some have already turned loose and need to be harvested,” he says. “This is all due to the lack of rain later in the season.

“More than likely, there will be a smaller crop size than anticipated from the lack of rain. The quality of the crop will also vary.”

Problems Old And New In The Virginia-Carolina Area

Harvest conditions across the Virginia-Carolina region were good in early October; however, cooler temperatures were in the forecast.

“Temperatures are expected to dip into the mid-to-high 40-degree Fahrenheit range for two days in a row,” says North Carolina State University Extension peanut specialist David Jordan. “For all practical purposes, peanut development and further pod maturation is unlikely to occur. Growers have been advised to dig pods and invert vines irrespective of pod maturity.”

Although most vines were holding up in the V-C region, cool, wet conditions favored an outbreak of Sclerotinia blight in some fields.

He says it is likely a significant portion of the V-C crop will be less than ideal in terms of yield and market grade.

The cool, wet temperatures later in the season made ideal conditions for disease here as well.

“Sclerotinia blight increased substantially in numerous fields over the past two weeks,” Jordan says. “Across the region, most fields have good vine health. Although epidemics for the pathogen causing leaf spot had decreased, peanuts in fields with poor control early in the fall have continued to defoliate.”

Jordan says burrower bug damage was also reported at one buying point. Since the removal of Lorsban (chlorpyrifos) from market shelves, there are no effective chemical controls for producers, and deep plowing is the oft-used remedy.

“Dry weather early in the year most likely contributed to the presence of this soilborne insect,” he says. “This pest is relatively new to the upper areas of the region.”

The burrower-bug-affected peanuts will likely go Seg 2. based on Federal and State Inspection Service criteria.

By Oct. 10, Jordan says approximately 50% of peanuts had been dug across the region with 20% harvested. Current yield estimates were remaining at about 4,000 pounds per acre. PG

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