Weather to Come Will Decide Fate of Georgia Peanuts

By for CAES News

As dry and hot as the summer has been, a University of Georgia scientist says peanuts still stand a chance to make a good crop.

"Overall, the crop looks good," said John Beasley, an Extension Service peanut agronomist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "It's getting late in the season. But with good weather -- even less than ideal weather -- we could still harvest a good crop of peanuts."

Peanut plant showing pegs and nuts underground

Peanut plants produce pegs,
a kind of elongated stem, that enter the
ground and swell to produce peanuts.

Beasley said the temperature has affected peanuts as much or more than the drought. "Even irrigated peanuts have suffered in the extremely high temperatures we saw all over the state through June and July," he said.

He calls 1998 an "almost bizarre year." Too much water in the spring kept farmers from planting. Then too little water in the summer has kept the plants from blooming and pegging.

And for Georgia's peanuts, valued in 1997 at $360 million, the blooms and pegs are the crop. The blooms form pegs, or elongated stems, that enter the ground, swell and produce the fruit we know as peanuts.

The weather from the first of August through October is what will make or break the peanut crop, Beasley said. Growers hope for warm days and a late frost to keep the crop maturing.

But other factors are complicating the maturity of the crop. Late planting meant the harvest was already delayed. Rain through the last week of July and into early August provided water for peanuts and for weeds, insects and diseases.

"All of those factors can harm plants and delay maturity," Beasley said. "Worst of all is the white mold we're seeing."

Tim Brenneman, a CAES plant pathologist, said white mold is the worst he's seen in the state in five years. "We're seeing (white mold) the worst in irrigated fields," he said, "where the high temperatures and available water provided ideal conditions for the mold to begin development earlier than we're accustomed to treating for it."

White mold on a peanut stem (in circle), photo not available
John Beasley, UGA CAES

White mold on a peanut plant (in circle.)

Brenneman said fungicides are available to decrease the fungus' presence and impact in the field. But once the fungus is there, it's hard to control. The good news is that only about 40 percent of Georgia peanut fields are under permanent irrigation, and dryland fields aren't as susceptible to the fungus.

The last "really bad" year was 1991, Brenneman said, when white mold cut yields by $57 million. "We don't think it will be that bad this year, since we've got good fungicides," he said. "But it has still caused, and will continue causing, some losses."

Beasley remains optimistic, though.

"There's still a very good chance the peanut crop can set and be harvested," he said. "Peanuts have an ability to withstand early-season drought and then put on a good crop during the last half of the season. We're betting that's going to be the case this year."