Published on 10/14/98

Georges Dampens Georgia Peanut Harvest

After nearly a week of waiting, Georgia peanut farmers have finally gotten back into their fields after getting 2 to 6 inches of rain from the remnants of Hurricane Georges. Many didn't like what they found.

"The biggest impact Georges had was in delaying field activity at a critical point in the harvest," said John Beasley, an Extension Service peanut agronomist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

That delay could cost the state's peanut growers $30 million to $40 million. Beasley said that's a conservative figure.

"It's hard to estimate these losses just from Georges," Beasley said. "So many other factors have affected the crop, it's hard to put dollars to it."

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J. Cannon, UGA CAES

PICKING PEANUTS after Georges means leaving nuts in the dirt for many farmers. Already weakend vines sat wet for seven to 10 days, weakening further while farmers waited for fields to dry out. On the Phillips' farm in Ben Hill County, Kyle Phillips said Georges kept him from digging three days early. "It actually will have helped us when it's all over," he said. Experts hope benefits like those will help offset overall losses expected to top $40 million.

The Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service reports that 12 percent to 15 percent of the crop had been dug and was waiting to be picked when Georges came.

Beasley said several diseases, including tomato spotted wilt virus, white mold and Cylindrocladium black rot, had already weakened plants.

"The midseason drought didn't help, either," he said. "With timely rain through the summer, the plants probably would have been strong enough to hold onto the nuts through Georges."

Farmers who dug their peanuts just before Georges made landfall on Sept. 28 hoped to get them harvested before the storm brought rain. But the storms clouds slowed drying time. Many farmers had to wait to harvest until after the storm passed and their fields dried out.

"That was a wait of seven to 10 days, instead of the usual three to four, between digging and harvesting," Beasley said. "Harvesting literally tore the peanuts off the vine before they were in the harvester."

It was worse for farmers who began digging after Georges passed. "The vines were just too weak to hold on to the nuts as the digger pulled the plants out of the ground," Beasley said. Many nuts were left in the soil.

Researchers have found that leaving peanuts in the field even one week past their peak maturity can cause yield losses of 200 to 250 pounds per acre. After two weeks, yields can drop by 300 to 500 pounds per acre.

"The longer the peanuts stay in the ground, the more quality they lose, too," Beasley said. "So farmers lose quality as well as quantity."

For a few farmers, though, Georges brought good news.

"Some areas had fields planted late or didn't have irrigation. And the rain from Georges will probably help them mature a crop that didn't set until August," Beasley said. "That could help offset the overall losses from this storm."