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Dry month, disease battering Georgia peanut crop

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Georgia was expected to have a record-size peanut crop this year. But hot, dry September weather and disease have taken a toll on the crop, lowering expectations, says a University of Georgia expert.

In early September, Georgia was expected to produce 2.3 billion pounds of peanuts, 97 million pounds more than the record set in 1991, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The record production potential was spurred by an increase to 760,000 planted acres, 140,000 more than last year. Georgia grows about half of all U.S. peanuts.

Georgia farmers were set to average 3,100 pounds per acre. But this number will likely go down by the time harvest ends later in November, says John Beasley, a UGA Cooperative Extension peanut agronomist.

"The major reason for the significant drop-off in yield potential is the hot, dry weather over the past few weeks," Beasley said.

Rainfall in September has been scarce to nonexistent across south Georgia, where most peanuts are grown. The area usually gets 3 to 4 inches in September, barring any tropical storms, according to the UGA Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network.

Farmers started harvesting a few weeks ago, Beasley said. But much of the crop is still maturing in fields.

"A significant number of our acres were planted late," he said. "Those acres still need several weeks to mature. Weather conditions over the next few weeks will dictate the yield potential of those acres."

Dry weather has hurt peanut quality, too, he said. It has kept part of the crop from maturing and gaining weight normally.

"But we expect the grades to improve as the season progresses," Beasley said.

About half of Georgia's peanut acres are irrigated, he said. But farmers haven't had to use it much this summer. Most of the peanut-growing counties had above-average rainfall in June, July and August.

"Many producers were able to park their irrigation systems during the season because of the rainfall amounts," he said. "Those producers with irrigation have run it more over the past few weeks than all season combined."

Tomato spotted wilt virus, a deadly and yield-reducing peanut disease, has hit the crop hard this year, he said, along with other diseases.

"TSWV is the worse it has been since the late 1990s," he said. About 12 percent of the crop in 1997 was infected with TSWV, costing $45 million in losses.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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