Employ those strategies that take a long-term view of the farm.
Sustainability means different things to different people. It can also be different depending on what aspect of production agriculture you are talking about. At the last Southern Peanut Growers Conference, following their theme of sustainability, Bob Kemerait, University of Georgia Extension plant pathologist, gave a presentation on sustainable disease management.
“Why should we care about sustainable disease control? Disease management is critical for sustainable agriculture,” says Kemerait. “Sustainable does not mean organic. Organic production can be sustainable, but you can be sustainable in conventional agriculture.” On a broader scale, one definition of sustainability finds that producers are meeting the needs of the present, while maintaining the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It means thinking long term about things.
Look At All Choices
The foundation of disease management is certainly a sustainable practice: crop rotation. “We would like for you to be out of peanut for two years, three years is better and four years is even better than that,” Kemerait says. “But it is not just being out of peanut. It’s what you plant in place of peanuts. If your choice is between soybeans and corn, what is the better choice? Corn is because soybeans share some of the same pathogens and nematode problems. “Crop rotation is the cornerstone in terms of sustainable disease management.”
Know Your Risk Level
Varietal resistances are some of the greatest advances in the last 40 years, says Kemerait. Leaf spot resistance, white mold resistance, nematode resistance are all possible in variety choices and this really provides greater opportunity for different fungicide options.
“Sustainability means taking the time to determine your risk and taking the measures to reduce your risk then reducing fungicides because you are able to live with that amount of risk,” Kemerait says. The use of Peanut Rx can help you determine risk.
Cheap Can Lead To Overuse
We’ve never had a better arsenal of fungicides, Kemerait says, and these, too, need to be used sustainably.
“Overuse of a relatively inexpensive fungicide may make economic sense in the short term, but that’s not what sustainability is about and it leads to resistance more quickly. Sustainability says to rotate chemistries and tankmix partners where effective,” he says. Additional decisions made in fungicide application can increase sustainability and efficacy.
“Spraying the soilborne disease fungicides early in the morning before dawn has been shown to be more effective than spraying the same products during the day. That makes the practice and that fungicide application more sustainable by conducting it at the time that makes it more effective. Better management is more sustainable,” Kemerait says.
“To embrace sustainability in disease management, producers should use best management practices, be as timely as possible, calibrate equipment and pay particular attention to accurate rates by reading and following product labels, dispose of the containers properly and, finally, use innovative application strategies.
Create Sustainable Soils
For Kip Balkcom, with USDA/ARS at Auburn University, sustainability means improving the soil quality in production agriculture. “The soils in the Southeast are characterized mostly by low fertility and erodability,” he says. “Our climate works against us with high humidity, high temperatures, and it burns up organic matter.” A sustainable goal is to increase soil carbon as much as possible. “Trying to increase soil carbon in the top couple of inches of soil makes a big difference in productivity,” Balkcom says. “Doing this will enhance all other soil-related properties.”
How Do You Do That?
- Minimize surface tillage by using a strip-tillage implement and maintaining what residue you can on the soil surface. 2
- Have continuous cover with cover crops. Use a crop with the main purpose of improving the soil, not one to be harvested for feed or sale. A cover crop with high residue is an investment in the soil.
- Rotate crops to break pest cycles and give more opportunity to build organic carbon matter in the soil.
While peanut digging does disturb the top layer of soil, Balkcom says it is not as detrimental to soil carbon as one might think. “Through these three practices, you can manage to not lose carbon as rapidly as you would otherwise. Increasing the biomass of the cover crop helps, and the residue will help increase water infiltration and reduce erosion. “To conclude: minimize surface tillage, utilize cover crops and maximize rotations to promote sustainability.”