Jordan v-C News Article

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This article is written for V-C Peanut News that will come out in a few weeks. I’m sending it now because I will forget to do so in a few weeks. 

We recently completed the spring semester at NC State. In one class I co-instruct with Dr. John Havlin we have the students prepare a farm plan that includes 7 years and 5 crops at a minimum. The students are divided into groups and this year the 3 groups included Sampson, Union, and Wake counties. It was interesting to see how they handled prices and yields, pest calendars, soil loss based on rotation and tillage, and all of the assumptions going into the plan. Leading up to the end of the project Dr. Havlin has given them a full dose of soil conservation and the value of protecting soils as a resource. I’ve talked about rotations and risk management among other things. In a second course, integrated pest management, I’ve focused on the PAMS approach to pest management – prevention, avoidance, monitoring, and suppression. In the process of both courses several major themes have emerged. One is the importance of managing risk by planning ahead and diversifying. A second theme is asking what will happen if I do this or that? In this column I plan to talk a little about both as they relate to peanut production and pest management.

We often talk about the value of basic agronomy when it comes to producing crops on a farm. Although I get a lot of mostly good natured grief about starting and maintaining rotation studies, it continues to be amazing at how easily we slip into habits of not rotating crops. One question on the exam I gave a few weeks ago was: which of the following is not true when farmers consider rotation schemes? Possible answers included: 1) the biological impact of crops on pest complexes and yield of all crops in the rotation, 2) the economic value of each crop in the rotation, 3) the specificity of equipment for each crop and financial investment in that equipment, and 4) suitability of land resources for each crop.

The correct answer (well, based on my key) is all of the above (and there would be several others to add to this list). Numbers 1, 3, and 4 are predictable, with number 2, the economic value of the crop, often being the driver. The good and bad of rotations from a biology standpoint are well established. The key becomes knowing or anticipating what will happen with a certain rotation. We have the tools to manage risk if we find ourselves in a situation where a poor biological rotation has the potential to bring the greatest farm income. One reason we have experienced consistently higher yields over the past few years is rotation. These long rotations are paying off for peanuts, but the question is how do they affect overall farm income over a longer period of time. That’s a more difficult question to answer for “outsiders.” Going back to the original point. Adjusting management practices for the coming season can help overcome the risk of a shorter rotation. But this takes knowledge and planning.

While we still have several varieties to select from, Bailey is quickly becoming the dominant Virginia market type in the V-C region. That is a good thing in many respects but it also poses risks. In the classes mentioned above we discuss the value of genetic diversity. One way this is achieved is by diversifying crops. Another way is to plant more than one variety for each crop. I have no doubt that Tom will continue developing and releasing new varieties that will maintain high yields with good resistance and will satisfy the industry as a whole. In recent months the status of Sullivan and Wynne was discussed intensely at several meetings (and I’m sure in individual conversations) in the context of performance of Bailey. These varieties are solid and perform well and have a place in our production systems. While Bailey is top notch right now, we need to balance our plantings with CHAMPS, Sugg, Sullivan, or Wynne.

While some will argue against the following analogy, glyphosate was fantastic in Roundup Ready crops and is still an important management option for weed control. But over reliance on this one herbicide caused “issues” over time. Although we can’t go back, we need to ask whether or not a more diverse approach in the early days would have been more sustainable in the long run. We can also ask this about Folicur. During the first few years in my current position, I remember preparing slides for Champions Night Out, and on the disease management slides I would list the fungicide options for all entries (in many cases I would also list entries for the “2-Ton Club”.) The slide would have some variation of B-F-F-F-B (Bravo-Folicur-Folicur-Folicur-Bravo) listed many times. We know resistance to Folicur developed, rendering it less effective on leaf spot. Greater diversity in the early days would have helped. For both of these examples (glyphosate and Folicur) farmers did really well and these products really helped in managing key pests. But there was a window when alternatives could have been incorporated in the system and possibly extended the value of these materials. With that said, perhaps in the short term Bailey will continue to dominate plantings with no issues. But from a risk management standpoint, more diversity in genetics through variety selection needs to be considered and implemented when possible.

We can minimize the risk of weeds with the approaches we take. A number of years ago there were efforts designed to emphasize postemergence sprays based on the weeds present with the goal of treating “only when needed.” One assumption was that we had effective postemergence herbicides for most weeds and that in most cases we could spray on time as needed. This approach had minimal risk a decade or so ago with Cadre, Cobra, Ultra Blazer, and paraquat in place and given that farms were smaller. Things are different now. Farms are larger and getting across fields in a timely manner can be more challenging than a decade ago. Herbicide resistance has also changed the dynamics of weed control. We simply have to be “heavy” on the front end with preplant, prelant incorporated and preemergence herbicides with effective residuals or we run the risk of never catching up with postemergence sprays. Most of our peanuts are gown without irrigation, and to further minimize risk we need to apply residuals at least twice (prepalnt and preemergence or preemergence and early postemergence) to make sure we catch a rain for activation.

Integrated pest management, whether it is for disease, insect, weed, or nematode management, requires balancing risk. It can be relatively straightforward developing an approach for a single pest in a single crop. Note that I said straightforward and not easy. In IPM terms this is considered level 1. Level 2 is more complicated and is where cooperative research among disciplines becomes important. We are fortunate to have Barbara and Rick working on key areas of pest management and Tom providing improved varieties along the way. This research group develops strategies for many of the scenarios you are up against. They have solid answers that can help you either minimize risk or address it when it knocks on the door. All of you live at level 3 – diverse cropping systems with many pests to deal with in the context of pressures related to economics, our general society and the environment. Hopefully you we can help you “use” peanuts to reduce risks of your other crops and vice versa. As important as peanuts might be to your operation, during most years you have close to 70% of your operation in something other than peanuts.

I know this particular article has been a ramble with fewer specifics than normal. I’ve mentioned before that we have a lot of things in our favor these days relative to peanuts – good rotations, good land, excellent genetics (Bailey, Sullivan, Sugg, Wynne), and adequate plant protection products. Your ability to manage these is very impressive. A few weeks ago we had a 5000 Pound Club Luncheon. The yield per acre on a lot of acres is a testament to the success and management skills of many of you. You pull it all together and manage risks well.

I’ll leave you with one more question on the recent IPM exam. Question 27, Climate change is expected to affect pest management systems in the United States in the coming years. With your knowledge if the biology of tomato spotted wilt, how could climate change affect the risk index that is currently in place? I graded this one without a key. It’s one of those questions where the logic and thought process rather than the actual answer is the goal. Some students gave an excellent answer, some just a sentence or two and even a few left it blank. The context of a hypothetical question in a class and real-world management decision on the farm is certainly very different. But moving forward, considering the impact of what we do and how we manage risk in the short, medium and long term is essential. We can’t afford to leave the questions without reasonable answers and still be successful. Thanks for your patience with this article.

Article first appeared as North Carolina Peanut Note (PNNC-2014-041)