The $430 million Georgia peanut crop is doing well in some fields and poorly in others, say University of Georgia experts.
"How well the peanut crop is doing depends entirely on where the rain fell," said John Beasley, an Extension Service agronomist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
"Some farmers report their peanut fields are in good shape," he said. "Others say their vines are drying up before they get started good."
Killer Virus Damage Spotty, Too
But it's not just spotty rain that has Georgia's peanut crop conditions so mixed. Tomato spotted wilt virus is affecting the crop, too.
Many Georgia farmers are learning how to keep spotted wilt from infecting their plants.
Albert Culbreath, a UGA plant pathologist, said in the fields he's seen, the farmer did everything he could to minimize the risk of spotted wilt, which cost Georgia growers $40 million in 1997.
"Those risk-reducing factors are holding up, especially when several factors are used in combination," he said.
Learning to Stop Spotted Wilt
Culbreath said the best fields were planted in early to mid-May with resistant varieties like Georgia Green and a high number of plants per foot. He's seen a huge difference in infection rates between those fields and others planted in early April. He said several UGA test plots planted in early April have been hit hard by spotted wilt.
But even if they planted resistant varieties at the right time and at the right rates, this dry weather doesn't help the plants get off to a good start, Beasley said. And that can make them a little more vulnerable to the disease.
"Getting a good start is a very important factor for reducing spotted wilt," Culbreath said. "Stand problems early in the season can result in greater problems with spotted wilt later."
Rain Still Needed
Georgia farmers reported about three-quarters of their peanut crop in fair or good condition as of June 18. Beasley said that's about the same as last year at this time.
Most peanut fields were planted during the first three weeks of May. Those plants are blooming and forming pegs now. The pegs should penetrate the soil around the plant and eventually grow into peanuts.
"We need about an inch-and-a-half to 2 inches of rain every week from now through late August," Beasley said. But that very rarely happens. Even in irrigated fields -- about 40 percent of the crop -- farmers are hard-pressed to get enough water on the crop.
But if the plants don't get enough water or are infected with spotted wilt, they may not be healthy enough to support blooms, pegs or the growing peanuts.
Thrips Carry Spotted Wilt
"In a lot of fields, we're seeing plants that are just dying from early infection," Beasley said.
Tiny insects called thrips carry the virus from plant to plant in fields. One UGA scientist estimates spotted wilt can live in more than 1,000 plants -- weeds included.
The earlier the virus infects the plants, the more severe the problem. The earliest-infected plants will probably die before they mature, Beasley said. Later-infected plants probably won't die, but won't produce as much of a crop as a healthy plant.
Farmers can't do anything to cure plants already infected.