Brandenburg Article for V-C Peanut News Spring Issue Peanut Notes No. 27 2020

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Times of Uncertainty

Rick Brandenburg

Extension Entomologist

North Carolina State University

By the time this article is published, it’s hard to tell what the situation will be regarding COVID-19. Hopefully, we will be in a much better place than we are currently (the end of March). But perhaps we will not. I think the keyword for the current situation is uncertainty. Uncertainty about the virus itself, uncertainty about how long it will last, uncertainty about its impact on you and your family. In other words, a lot of uncertainty. Serious uncertainty.

It affects each of us in different ways dependent upon on our own personal situation with family, health, and employment. The longer it drags out and the continuing level of uncertainty, the more stressful it gets. Each of us is equipped differently with skills and abilities to deal with stress, uncertainties, and risks. In other words, there is no “one size fits all”. Each day I feel better about the current situation by looking at something hanging on my refrigerator door that says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27. We all have our own ways to move forward in a positive manner.

Times like these make me think about the stresses and uncertainties my dad faced growing up. From the time he was a little boy until he was a 20-year-old man, he knew only two things: The Great Depression and World War II. Those times shaped him for the entirety of his life until he passed away nine years ago. Those incredible difficult times were etched in his mind and influenced every farming decision he ever made. He was incredibly risk averse in everything he did. As I got older, I learned to appreciate why he was that way. Now that he is gone, I realize that through our association, some of those thought processes were etched in my mind and in times like these, they are of great value. For that, I am thankful.

So what does this have to do with peanut production? Well, to start, farmers are probably one of the leading groups on this planet dealing with stress, risk, and uncertainties. Almost everything you do has some level of risk and has some uncertainties associated with it and that creates stress. You make a lot of assumptions early in the year and you hope the spring weather cooperates, the seed all germinate, the summer rains come, the products you apply all work as you hope, there isn’t a late-season hurricane, and the market is good for what you produce. Most of the time, one or more of those factors don’t work out according to the plan we have in mind.

At North Carolina State University and all the other land grant universities in the Southeast, we annually conduct research trials and demonstrations to better understand the system and to hopefully reduce some of the stress and uncertainty associated with peanut production. We can’t do anything about the weather or the prices, but we can address many of the other issues. Fortunately, we’ve had a long history of a really good peanut breeding program that included Johnny Wynne, Tom Isleib and now continuing with Jeff Dunne. Others in the mix of things over the year I have been here include Alan York, Jack Baily, Gene Sullivan, Barb Shew, David Jordan, and others. While all work has and continues to focus on profitable peanut production, within all programs is an effort to reduce risk.

For a number of years now, David Jordan has led an effort to provide guidelines for our extension field faculty in each county and peanut growers to reduce risk by using a risk index calculator. The concept of predicting risk in peanut production was initially developed by the late Jack Bailey. He was the peanut pathologist at NC State in the 1980s and 90s. Long ago, before the rest of us really took it seriously, Jack wanted to make a system that took our research findings, but also our experiences over the decades, and put it into a program that helped us make wise management decision.

David Jordan has led the effort not only continue Jack’s dream, but to actually put it into practice. The Peanut Risk Tool is useful to help us understand risk in production, to help make the best decisions for our own farm situation before the first seed goes in the soil, and to make wise decisions as the season progresses. The tool is available online. This tool is very useful to guide us prior to planting, but also as the season progresses. Equally important, is the role this risk tool can play in education and helping us understand how everything we do will impact something else. In other words, cultivar selection, tillage practices, planting date, plant populations and row spacing, and on down the list will all influence the problems we face later in the season. We can’t make potential problems disappear, but we can stack the deck in our favor to reduce those issues which are most troublesome (and stressful) on your farm.

The risks and uncertainties of farming come with the territory. Some are old foes and over time, we usually have to face new ones. Research makes ever attempt to develop cost-effective approaches to manage them. Making wise choices in your production program starts well before tilling the soil. Reducing your risk with the selection of appropriate varieties and plan protection production will get you a long ways, but we can’t overcome some of the natural obstacles we face. In addition, we need to look at the economics of risk reduction. Sometimes that comes at a premium price and limits are ability to product the crop in a cost-effective manner. As we all know, these decisions are often difficult. The best decisions, however, are the result of using the best sources of information you can get your hands on mixed with your own personal experiences, and making those decisions in a timely manner.

As I said at the beginning of this article, I don’t know where things will stand when this is published. Hopefully, we will all be in a better place than what we see now. Good luck this summer and stay safe.