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Peanut Crop Fares Well, Cotton Struggles
Despite the drought and recent cold weather, Georgia's peanut crop will be better than expected, but state cotton yields and quality struggle through another discouraging year, say University of Georgia experts.

Cooler Weather Stops Peanuts

A cold snap last week threatened the state's peanut crop. When temperatures fall into the 40's at night and remain cool during the day, the peanut plant shuts down, postponing maturity. Farmers that checked the maturity level of peanuts before the cool weather will need to factor in the cool days.

The state will most likely not receive enough warm weather to recharge maturity, said John Beasley, a University of Georgia Extension peanut agronomist. Farmers shouldn't dig peanuts if a freeze is forecast for the next day.

The peanuts are around 40 percent water when dug. A freeze could damage the kernel inside the shell, destroying quality and reducing the farmer's profits. Low land areas in the northern part of the state's peanut belt are at a greater risk than south Georgia peanut fields.

According to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service, state yields are forecast to average 2,500 per acre.

"It seems reasonable that growers can reach this forecast," Beasley said. "Overall, the crop is looking fair right now."

Yield potential will depend greatly on the availability of water throughout the season, he said.

Earlier this season, considering the drought, disease and insect pressure, the forecast seemed ambitious. However, growers have combated adverse conditions with specific management practices -- but not without paying the cost.

Beasley says early season peanut quality is higher than expected. The quality of the $430 million crop usually increases as the season progresses, peaking right before the end of digging. Consistent quality early is a plus for growers.

A recent 10-day stretch of harvest-friendly weather invigorated a harvest that began sluggishly.

"We made a tremendous amount of progress last week and the week before," Beasley said. "We're going well past the halfway point of getting this crop in. Next week we should have a high percentage harvested as farmers hustle to get everything out of the field."

Cotton farmers, however, are faced with less pleasant news.

Cotton Farmers Face Low Yields, Poor Quality

According to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service, about 20 percent of the cotton crop was harvested as of Oct. 8.

Until this point, the cotton has been of poor quality, said Steve Brown, a University of Georgia Extension cotton agronomist.

Due to extreme high temperatures this season, the cotton crop was ready to harvest at least two weeks early. Half the crop was ready for defoliation by mid-September, and as a result, the rains during the first three weeks of the month significantly reduced lint quality of the harvested cotton.

In addition to the low quality problems, cotton yields are down. So far, irrigated cotton is producing about 800-900 pounds per acre, about 300 pounds below normal.

Low yields can be blamed on the summer heat and late season's boll rot. The state's five-year average is 650 pounds per acre, but Brown said the average this year will most likely be around 600 pounds per acre.

"There is a lot of 400-pound dryland cotton out there," Brown said. "and many acres may pick only a half a bale."

The third consecutive year of low rainfall forced farmers to abandon 200,000 acres of cotton this year. "This will be our fourth bad crop in a row," Brown said.

Recent cool weather has toughened the plants that remain to be harvested.

As warm weather returns to the area, there is hope yields and quality will improve as harvest pushes forward, Brown said.

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

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