Five Key Points On New Ground
In discussions this winter, growers seem to be interested in planting more peanuts in 2023 compared with 2022. The increase in the V-C region is likely to be modest and will depend on contracts. In our production meetings, I’ve been pointing out important things new peanut growers should consider. The points are also helpful for experienced growers who are thinking about picking up new land through expansion of acres.
First on my list was making sure zinc levels are not excessive. In North Carolina, we have a significant animal industry with a lot of waste that must be handled in an efficient and environmentally favorable manner. One important use is spreading waste on fields. But we know peanuts are very susceptible to zinc, so we should use caution in spreading or planting peanuts in fields that have a history of waste application.
If our NCDA&CS index is at 250 or above, I encourage growers to look for other fields. This is especially the case if soil pH is low. Soils with higher pH values are at less risk, but the 250 index needs to be taken seriously. There is no correction for zinc toxicity.
Second on the list is inoculation for nitrogen fixation. If the field has been out of production for a long time, or if the field is considered new ground, the most important thing a grower will do (after checking the zinc level) is to make sure a liquid or granular in-furrow inoculant is placed in the bottom of the seed furrow.
Trial data in new-ground fields indicates that yields are 60% to 70% of optimum if there is an inoculation problem and a nitrogen deficiency occurs. There is a 40-to-1 return on investment in new ground from inoculation and a 4-to-1 return on an investment in rotated ground. Inoculant cost is about 1% of the total budget for most growers.
I also recommend placing a peat-based inoculant in with the seed in the hopper box for insurance on new ground fields or for fields without peanuts for many years. If the orifice gets stopped up on a planter unit, or something prevents live inoculant from reaching the bottom of the seed furrow, the peat-based product with seed will make a huge difference. Correcting a nitrogen deficiency will cost well over $100/acre when nitrogen fertilizer is broadcast over an entire field.
Third on the list was making sure pH across the field is around 6.0. If you are using one sample as the average for the field, lime to get pH above 6.2 to make sure the low pH spots are above 5.8. We have seen yield decreases when gypsum is applied to fields with low pH.
A fourth point is to make sure digging and harvesting capacities are adequate for the acreage you have. Availability of trucks for hauling to buying points can be a bottleneck, but making sure you can dig as closely to optimum maturity is important financially. Digging too soon because you have more acres than your equipment can get to in a timely manner, as well as digging fields too late because of the same issue, can result in significant yield loss.
The final point I’ve been making in these grower meetings is to get as much information on pests in the field as you can. If the field is a new one for you, there will be limited information on most soil-borne pathogens that impact peanuts. However, one should be able to get a handle on the weeds that are present by asking a few questions. A nematode sample can help you know populations and their distribution in and across fields. Cropping sequence for the past five or so years can also help you make an educated guess on potential problems. We can pencil in significant weed control costs in most fields. We also need a solid fungicide program for leaf spot (spores move around in air), and thrips and tomato spotted wilt control strategies need to be considered. Thrips are abundant across the coastal plain of North Carolina, and spotted wilt is vectored by this insect.
There are a lot of good things that can result from peanuts going into a new or relatively new field. We just need to make sure we are on top of things and get help developing an effective plan if you have limited experience on peanuts or if you find yourself planting into a new field.
Weigh Planting Decisions
Growers are beginning to make many decisions for the 2023 production season. Each one of these carries a risk that will impact productivity and economic return. The UGA Peanut Team is about halfway through county production meetings where many of the team members are talking about some of the risks that were taken during the past growing season and the cost of these risks.
For example, many growers are now planting more acres in April as it may benefit their operation to finish planting early so they can plant cotton, or they may be trying to achieve the highest yield potential possible. There could be many reasons for planting early, some of which are not the wrong decision, as long as you understand the rewards versus risks.
Typical planting decisions should include the variety to be planted, the germination percentage of the seed, environmental conditions the week before and after planting and the insecticide and fungicide selections that should be applied in-furrow. All of these options need to be addressed so the best decisions are made to suit every grower’s farming operation, especially in April to early-May. The unfortunate situation, in most years, is Mother Nature does not cooperate, and some of our decisions will end up working against us.
As mentioned earlier, we talk about the risks of these decisions, but very seldom do we talk about the economic impact of those decisions. One reason we do not talk about it is because it’s a moot point. The damage is done, and we need to move forward. For now, let’s work to reduce the impact in 2023.
Let’s look at decisions regarding planting date and insecticides as they relate to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. In 2022, the weather was moderate, and growers decided to plant about half their acres before May 10, with an estimated 30% of acres not utilizing Thimet, the only insecticide shown to suppress the virus. Was this a bad decision? Not entirely. Looking at the past five years, growers have applied other insecticides and not experienced any issues. Unfortunately, it is a risky decision, and the worst-case scenario happened in 2022.
Based on a survey conducted by UGA Extension, TSWV averaged 19.3% to 27% in fields using insecticides other than Thimet and 9.7% for fields that used Thimet. The economic impact of non-use of Thimet was estimated to be greater than $40 per acre, nearly one-third of the cost of a fungicide program. Is this a big enough economic impact for a grower to consider a different decision? In this situation, a change in planting date and/or insecticide could have reduced the risk and the potential loss in yield.
Looking forward to this growing season, growers should be sure to ask for the germination percentage of each lot they are planting. Do not plant a seed lot with reduced germination percentage or vigor in April to early May. Cool, wet conditions plus poor-quality seed will likely cause skippy stands, thus increasing the risk of TSWV significantly. Luckily, seed quality in 2022 was good and we did not experience any issues with stands. Poor-quality seed could have easily doubled the economic impact experienced from TSWV.
Every grower has to make some tough decisions regarding their whole operation. We are here to provide you the information and help to weigh the risks so that you can achieve the highest level of productivity. Please call your local county agent if you need any help.
Plant To Irrigation Capacity
The 2022 growing season was one of the toughest, most challenging seasons for Southwest growers. We are glad that we can finally put 2022 behind us and think about the 2023 season. However, the National Weather Service forecast through April 30 shows persistent drought in the peanut-growing region of the Southwest.
Although fertilizer costs are lower than at the same time last year, the price is still higher than the five-year average. Supply chains are slowly getting better, but other input costs are still higher than past years. We can hope 2023 may not be as challenging as 2022; however, it is always best to prepare detailed plans for optimizing profitability.
When expecting a dryer-than-normal year, optimizing water-use efficiency is the most important management decision you can make. We rely heavily on irrigation for peanut production as our precipitation is not sufficient to produce optimum yields. “Plant the peanut to irrigation capacity” is something that I always repeat when drought is forecast ahead of us. Splitting the circle with other crops such as cotton, with a season water use of 12 inches to 24 inches, sorghum, at 20 inches to 22 inches, and sesame, 16 inches to 18 inches, may be a good idea to increase available water for peanuts with realistic yield goals. Shorter maturity market-types, such as Spanish and Valencia, also use less water for the season.
Growers ask what inputs they can reduce to lower the total input costs. There are no unnecessary inputs to grow crops, especially fertilizers, herbicides and fungicides. It is better to plant fewer acres that can be fully managed with necessary inputs. It is too risky to reduce inputs because there would be a yield penalty to do so.
Soil testing is especially recommended to optimize input costs. Understand the residual soil nutrient levels so that fertilizer amounts can be effectively adjusted. If crops were not harvested in 2022 because of drought, if fertilizer was applied, there is higher probability that soils contain an increased amount of nutrients, depending on the rainfall received.
There are no silver bullet in-furrow and foliar products that magically solve all the problems we face in this tough season. If such products are recommended to you, always request university trial results and consult with your county agent.
Help With Variety Selection
As of now, it is hard to imagine what the weather will be like at planting since we have been so wet lately. However, a third year of a La Niña weather pattern is forecast and likely means warmer temperatures and dry conditions again at planting, which leads to earlier pest pressure.
There are always tough decisions to make on the farm, and picking the correct variety is a critical decision. Because of this, our research station and on-farm trials are important tools to help you determine the right variety for the location and accompanying crop pressures.
This past year, we increased the number of Official Variety Trials across the state and planted varieties at multiple on-farm locations to determine how each variety would respond to different soil types, weather patterns, pests and disease pressures. The more information we can provide, the better prepared peanut producers are to manage the crop throughout the year.
A review of yield and grade information for each location in addition to a total dollar value average for the location or multiple years per location can help you make the best decisions for 2023. The AU Variety Selection Platform is still a relatively new tool that growers can use to determine what varieties consistently perform well in a given region. The Platform also gives considerable production information and weather data from the various research sites, as well as the bulletin “Preliminary Performance Of Peanuts In Alabama, 2022.”
The AU Variety Selection Platform can be found at auburn.medius.re/. PG