Twenty-Five Years Of Technological Change

11-13PGcvrPhenomenal success has been achieved by working together and accepting change.
By John Baldwin
Retired Professor Emeritus

Along with a few others, The Peanut Grower magazine, which is now celebrating its 25th anniversary in circulation, has been an avenue for distributing information to all facets of the peanut industry. Most of us are resistant to change, but in the following article, I will attempt to convey the multitude of changes that have occurred in peanut production in the U.S. to help us achieve the successes that we have been able to obtain to date.

The American Peanut Research and Education Society recently held its annual meeting in Georgia. As part of the meeting, a symposium was held to help explain the reasons for crop advancement and yield gains in peanut production. Growers, ag industry, universities and USDA have all contributed to help achieve the level of expertise we enjoy today to help provide a wholesome, nutritious and desirable food for our consumers to enjoy.

Higher And Higher Average Yields
Average yields of peanut in the United States set an all time record of 4,183 pounds per acre in 2012. This far exceeded the previous record yield of 3,419 pounds per acre in 2008. Favorable weather conditions undoubtedly contributed to the record yields in 2012; however, these record yields would not have been achievable without numerous technological advances that have been made in peanut production.

The cumulative effect of these technologies caused U.S. yields to increase six fold from 658 pounds per acre in 1909 to 4,183 pounds per acre in 2012. If we disregard the record yield of 2012, the average gain from 1909 to 2011 was 26.6 pounds per acre per year. These yield gains are due to improved cultivars, advances in agronomic practices, improvements in practices and chemistries for control of weeds and diseases, and the increased use of precision agriculture, particularly for the digging and harvesting of the crop.

Cultivars Count For Much
Modern peanut cultivars have much higher yield potentials; however, because of the synergism between production systems and plant breeding, it is difficult to precisely quantify the amount of the yield gains that are due to improved cultivars. In addition to yield, cultivar development has also resulted in improved resistance to important yield-limiting diseases. This has had important economic impacts on U.S. peanut production.

There have been some tremendous strides made by agrichemical companies to improve the arsenal of pesticides including insecticides, fungicides and herbicides to help protect crops and improve yields due to good control measures. Our research and Extension colleagues have also done a yeoman’s job in developing management techniques to aid in reducing the effects of these pests.

As with all pest control technologies, we must apply it correctly, on a timely basis and with an attitude that we will get positive results. We always pray that the weather will be favorable to help us achieve our expected results.

An Oft Repeated Message
Scouting for both beneficial and harmful insects has been done for years and should be continued by growers to help in selection of proper pesticides and timing these materials for best results. Many things can affect both insect and disease pressure such as previous crop history, tillage, temperature, moisture and rotation. Yes, I said rotation. Rotate every three years at least. I am such an avid believer in rotation of peanuts that I have shouted it from the hillsides. I made such an impact on some that they suggested that I put on my tombstone “John Baldwin lies here! Rotate every three years!” Maybe, but I think not.

Many of you know of my fondness for bahiagrass rotations and my dislike for rotations with soybeans in the mix. I still have a picture of peanuts following soybeans and every plot developed cylindracladium black rot (CBR). That will send shivers up your spine for sure. Thankfully, now we have pesticides that help suppress this disease.

No Substitute For Extension
Check out the Peanut Rx and see for yourself: Peanut Rx is one example of how variety selection, management practices, fungicide selection and attention to detail can help in possibly reducing pesticide use or in using them more effectively. The same is true for insects, but we have to be careful not to treat too often or use the same materials over and over. Insect identification and population assessment prior to treatment are essential to selecting the right material and timing treatments for the best control.

Your county agent is an excellent resource to help in pest identification and pesticide selection. No other country has had the resources we have had in the Extension Service and the county delivery system. I hope it continues for years to come as other countries have tried to emulate this support system for agriculture for years.

Saving The Industry Back in the early 90s, the Tomato Spotted Wilt Risk Index was developed at the University of Georgia. This is a classic example of a grassroots effort among scientists and specialists (no administrators were involved – in fact they were kept away) to pull together and solve a complicated production problem. Everybody had a part to play in developing the management scheme to reduce the potentially devastating viral disease vectored by thrips.

The management effects were monitored and validated each year and many fields were surveyed statewide by our core group of researchers and extension personnel. Concurrently, peanut breeders developed several spotted wilt resistant lines that significantly increased resistance to the disease and improved yields that were not thought possible 25 years ago. Some have stated that the team effort to solve the spotted wilt riddle saved peanut production in the southeastern U.S. How can anybody argue that conclusion?

More Tools Then Ever
Improvements in weed management are a contributing factor to advancements in peanut yield. Uniformity in stand, narrow row patterns and optimal seeding rates are cultural practices that affect weed management in peanut. Vacuum planters are readily accepted by growers and allow precise metering of seed, which is essential when peanuts are seeded in narrow row patterns. Widespread use of vacuum planters and increased acceptance of narrow row patterns enhance weed control by lessening bare ground caused by skips and by promoting quick canopy closure.

Cultivation was traditionally an integral component in peanut weed management. New herbicide development has improved overall weed control, and cultivation is no longer needed. This directly addresses the susceptibility of peanut to infection by soil-inhabiting fungi. There is a direct correlation between incidence of stem rot and displaced soil thrown on peanut plants from cultivation. Not needing to cultivate lessens disease epidemics and protects peanut yield.

In 2013, 22 herbicide active ingredients were registered in the U.S. for weed control in peanut. In contrast, there were 12 herbicide active ingredients registered for use on peanut in 1980. Recently developed herbicides are more consistent, versatile and have a broader spectrum than earlier herbicides. Of these, four active ingredients (Strongarm, Valor, Cadre and Pursuit) have superior residual weed control properties that were previously unavailable. There were no selective postemergence herbicides registered in 1980 that controlled emerged grasses. In 2013, there were three postemergence herbicides registered for use on peanut to control annual and perennial grasses (Poast Plus, Select and Fusilade). There are now several generic materials with the same active ingredients as our original herbicides.

Change To Keep Up With Weeds
Annual and perennial grasses are among the most competitive weeds. Registrations of these herbicides were major weed control milestones in peanut production and have largely eliminated yield losses from grasses that escaped earlier control efforts.

Despite the broad spectrum of weeds controlled by the recently developed herbicides, no single herbicide adequately controls all species. Herbicide Application Decision Support System (HADSS) is an expert system developed by North Carolina State University to help peanut growers correctly choose herbicides based on weed species present. HADSS has been validated for use in other peanut producing locations and improves weed control efficiency.

Overall, weed management in peanut has improved in recent years. However, weed species diversity is constantly changing due to selection pressure from all aspects of crop production. Changes in weed species diversity and weed resistance to herbicides are continual research topics in peanut to ensure peanut yield advances are maintained.

Another Revolution: GPS
Technology is a wonderful thing they tell me. We now have the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Tweeter, text and in all ways try to communicate. Our children are learning how to use computers almost before they can walk. I was high tech way before my time. I was one of the first to use the Palm Pilot. I used to write field notes on the palm of my hand with a Sharpie hoping I would make it back to the office before the sweat would make it run.

The marvels of technology are amazing. It has taken agriculture into the 21st century with grid sampling to help put fertilizer where it is needed and infrared sensing to point out weeds, diseases and nematodes. Variable rate irrigation is in the present and certainly in our future. Of course, GPS has revolutionized our abilities to prepare land, plant and harvest.

When I saw my first six-row digging demonstration with GPS, I was truly amazed when the tractor turned and skipped twelve rows before returning toward me. Originally, I thought this is a train wreck ready to happen! Needless to say, it was one of the most inspiring demonstrations on accuracy that I had seen. I have always said that digging peanuts is more art than science but now I may have to rethink that statement. If you do have an employee or family member that can operate and maintain peanut diggers, then they are worth their weight in gold and certainly an RC and Moon Pie after a long day in the fields.

The computer is so common place these days that it is truly a marvel when trying to do record keeping or track Irrigator Pro to help in irrigating our peanut crops. Surfing the Web to find equipment, Googling almost anything imaginable, seeing pictures of the grandkids on Facebook or finding the best recipe for peanut butter pie.

If It Don’t Rain…
Each year is a little different, and proper irrigation can go a long way to insuring a high-yielding, high-quality crop. Fuel is expensive, as you well know, so scheduling the right amount at the right time will be important. Technology can be your friend, if used correctly, and will take us into the next phase of agriculture providing food and fiber for ourselves and the rest of the world. Non-irrigated, or a more common term “dryland” peanuts, are even more difficult with variable plant stands, erratic weed control and gypsum incorporation a real hit-and-miss production management dilemma. The production seasons from 1980 to 1995 included seven of the 15 worst drought seasons in Georgia history. This was the reason for coining the phrase, “If it don’t rain, it don’t matter.” I pray the Lord blesses each of you and provides the moisture needed each growing season to make a good crop. Oh, by the way, I still use my highly personalized version of the “Palm Pilot” when making notes.

Thank You, Growers
Throughout history, we have had many obstacles to overcome, such as new pests (weeds, insects and diseases). Our universities and agri-businesses have met the challenge with new pest control materials, improved varieties, enhanced irrigation strategies and others to provide our consumers with an abundant, safe and nutritious food supply.

None of the accomplishments over the past 25 years would have been possible without our growers helping to fund, accept and implement these new management methods, technological advances and incorporation of these practices in their own operations. I’ve always been told that insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Our results by working together and accepting change have been phenomenal. Let’s pray that the next 25 years leads to even greater happenings and continued change in agricultural technologies and management practices.

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