V-C News Column Jordan Peanut Notes No. 149 2018

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The 2018 crop is moving further and further away in our rearview mirrors but its impact will be felt in 2019 and for years to come in some instances. I often include just peanut information in my columns but I realize peanut farmers grow other crops too. For every acre of peanuts there are generally three or more acres of other crops. Depending on where you are located, drought, too much water in the summer, and two hurricanes during the fall had a major impact on crops. Peanuts took a hit but not like some of our other crops (cotton, soybean, tobacco.)  Higher costs of production and low commodity prices combined with unpredictable weather have taken their toll on many farmers across the state. That reality is very much understood by all of us. We hope the information and work we do at NC State and at the county level helps you through the challenges you are facing. We don’t take our roles lightly, especially when farmers are struggling.

We just completed edits for the 2019 Peanut Information series. In doing so, we added a few new chapters and made some major changes to others. The budgets are really close to breakeven for both runner and Virginia market types. At the prices we used, $0.20/pound (runner) and $0.23/pound (Virginia), with a yield of two tons, economic returns over fixed and variable costs are about $10/acre and $20/acre, respectively. To spend about $900/acre to get these returns is too risky. I hope prices are stronger than $460/ton this coming year – we need at least $500/ton contracts to make peanut production worth the risk. Of course farmers are very independent, and each one knows their own situation, but as general rule we need stronger prices for peanuts. That’s my editorial on price and risk.

Regardless of price, we need to be as efficient as possible without jeopardizing yield. What are the inputs that almost always pay for themselves? I would say that everything in the budget is critical. An adequate stand is the starting point. Seeding rates of 110 pounds/acre for runners and at least 125 pounds/acre for Virginias are important starting points. A solid fertility program is essential (both macronutrients and micronutrients). We just finished summarizing six years of pH work at one of our research stations. Even at modest yields and prices an increase in yield and subsequent positive return above lime cost occurs when pH is increased from 5.6 to 6.0. We have known this for a long time, but we often let our pHs slip too low. Inoculant on new or old ground more than pays for itself. Soil pH and inoculant are not places to cut. And be very careful about what you put in the tank with inoculant. Less is better. Beyond in-furrow insecticide for thrips make sure someone else has tried something new that you are considering before you put it in the tank. Speaking of thrips, systemic insecticide protects peanut from yield loss, and this input almost always pays for itself (and then some.)  A foliar spray of acephate often does too, but that application needs to be timed before the thrips damage becomes really obvious. Weed control upfront also pays for itself. Heavier on the front end (PPI and PRE herbicides) is better than heavier on the late end (multiple POST herbicides). Pull up any ragweed or Palmer amaranth that escapes your herbicides before they produce seed. Look close at risk for rootworm; I suspect our risk index for southern corn rootworm is an underutilized tool among growers. Diverse MOAs of fungicide and timely and consistent application of fungicides for leaf spot are critical, especially as we experience some slippage in control. Although we are often spraying when disease is not evident, the pathogen is working hard to get established throughout the season. Sometimes when we are in a dry pattern, temperatures and humidity are at levels that continue to encourage pathogen development. Take a look at the weather-based advisory system. Don’t underestimate how pathogens can get a start even when we think they are inactive. During the past two years we have seen an increase in spotted wilt. Take a look at the spotted wilt index and build in some risk management. Position yourself for healthy plants at digging. Look closely at maturity and get digging, harvesting and drying and hauling capacities in line with acreage and the challenges of poor weather.

Details are important, especially when margins are tight. Think long and hard about the investment in peanuts if the price is too low to make a reasonable profit. You know better than anyone else what your realistic yield potential is and how much it costs to grow peanuts. Peanuts are in my heart – but growing them is intense and carries risk until the very end of the season.