Published on 06/09/97

UGA Software to Help Peanut Farmers Fight Weeds

Georgia peanut farmers have to contend with a lot of weeds to produce their $400 million crop. Soon, though, a computer program will take the guesswork out of peanut weed control.

University of Georgia scientists developed the software, called HERB for Peanuts, along with researchers at North Carolina State and the University of Florida.

They designed the program to be used on a palmtop computer farmers can carry into the field. The farmer checks out his fields and enters data on the weeds he's trying to get rid of.

"The farmer punches in a few numbers and gets instant advice on how to control the weeds in his fields," said David Bridges, a UGA weed scientist at the Georgia Experiment Station in Griffin. He is working on the project with Greg MacDonald, a UGA weed scientist in Tifton.

"The advice is individualized," Bridges said. "The computer makes recommendations based on the farmer's visual analysis of his field."

Georgia farmers grow the peanuts for about half of the peanut butter made in the United States. They send nearly 700 million pounds of nuts to peanut butter factories each year.

HERB, though, isn't just a peanut program. Researchers developed the program in 1991 for use in soybean fields. Today, growers and consultants can get HERB for Soybeans at 121 county extension offices in Georgia.

"We wanted to develop the program for peanuts first," Bridges said. "But we didn't have the data. So we began with soybeans. Peanuts are the most important Georgia crop. Farmers apply tons of herbicides to peanuts each year. It's a herbicide-intensive crop."

HERB for Peanuts consists of a data base of 78 weed species and the damage each can cause.

"The farmer keys in the grower-specific information, including size, crop, weed species and soil type," Bridges said. "HERB then provides damage estimates, including decrease in profit as a result of the weeds. And it tells which herbicides to use and the net gain per acre as a result."

In some cases, the cost to kill the weeds outweighs the benefit. "These are the kinds of things farmers need to know before they take action," Bridges said.

Researchers are now running the final field tests on the HERB peanut program. A Georgia Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency Region IV grant enabled them to provide palmtop computers for county extension agents in 10 peanut-producing counties.

The extension agents are using the computers to test the program in their counties. They're testing it in 20 Georgia growers' fields under real- world conditions.

The UGA weed scientists' goals are to keep supporting the HERB soybean program, release the final version of the peanut program in 1998 and then begin work on a cotton program.

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.