Jordan V-C Peanut News Column Spring Peanut Notes No. 54 2022

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This past winter at our peanut production meetings, I spent time discussing a key comment and question I received from several people in January. The comment with a question was: Seems like I did everything right, but my yields just were not where I think they should have been. What did I do wrong? Moving into 2022 after a good peanut crop had some folks asking themselves (and others) why their yields seemed to be lower than their neighbors were. That is always a tricky way to do things, to compare ourselves to those around us. Life is complicated. In this column, I am going to go back through each of these with the hopes that you can reconsider some of your practices and bump your yields up a bit more. By the time you read this some of suggestions will be coming on the late side, but here we go. I have expanded on the heading for each of these that I used in my slides this past winter.

Often compared with last year or a neighbor (just not the same) – Comparing peanut yield from year to year is a challenge and so is comparing with your neighbor. I do not even know where to begin on the neighbor comparison so I will jump to the next bullet.

Rainfall patterns (just a few miles can matter) – We certainly know how spotty rain can be and there were many places in the state in 2021 where just a few miles apart really mattered in terms of catching a key rain. I was at the Peanut Belt Research Station a few times in late summer and I could see rain in the distance. The station needed the rain but it did not get it. It could be that you are comparing rainfall patterns and not the practices you used in 2021.

Variety mix (generally, Bailey II is better than Sullivan) – When we start comparing yield in fields or with others we need to keep in mind that some of the comparison may be a variety comparison and not the other practices we are using in peanuts. Much of our data shows that Bailey yields more than Sullivan does by a few hundred pounds per acre. In addition, there are data sets that show the difference between these at even greater amounts. Certainly both can yield the same, but I do not recall seeing many data sets where Sullivan yielded more that Bailey. Moreover, our data shows that Bailey II often yields more than Bailey. Before you decide to make major changes in production and pest management practices (outside of variety selection), make sure you are not comparing varieties when judging your decisions. The percentage of one variety compared with another on a farm might be the reason for differences in yield.

Got about 3 plants per foot of row overall (some areas might have lower populations) – Our recommendation is to establish 4 or 5 plants per foot of row. If you are planting in late April or early May, I suggest planting 6 seed to make sure you get 5 plants (this helps with spotted wilt.) If you have been easing back on seeding rates to save money, there is a good chance your yields can be lower. Starting with a lower seeding rate can result in some spots of the field with yield-limiting plant populations. With three or fewer plants, we often get a reduction in yield.

Inoculant (worth 5% even on rotated ground) – Inoculant cost is roughly 1% of the total production cost. Even when you would not see a response above ground, our data shows a 4:1 return on investment from in-furrow sprays even in rotated ground. The return is much greater in new ground. You might be leaving 200 pounds per acre in rotated ground by leaving off the in-furrow spray.

Tillage (reduced till can be lower in some parts of fields in some years) – We have about 30% of farmers in NC in some form of reduced tillage. Most folks that have moved in that direction have worked out the issues and are committed to this system. Nevertheless, keep in mind that we can have issues in reduced tillage when it comes to digging losses in dry years. In 2021, we had a good year to get the crop harvested in a timely manner. When this happens, I often think we have some yield loss in reduced tillage or conventional tillage in flat ground because of digging losses. It is just the nature of digging Virginia market types on dry soils. The deeper you have to dig the more soil comes through the digger and the greater the digging losses we can have in dry soils. Peanuts in conventional tillage systems with beds often have the least amount of pod loss during digging across most weather and soil moisture conditions.

Soil-borne pathogens and disease (difficult to see these above ground) – What goes on below ground can be easily missed unless we take the time to look closely. There is always the chance we can have good leaf spot control but lose some yield due to stem rot and Sclerotinia blight unless we look close and adjust our fungicide programs accordingly.

Average pH for the field is on the low side (areas with low pH can yield even lower when gypsum is applied) – I have spent a lot of time on this during the past few years. We can be losing significant yield if our pH is not high enough. We can even take a yield hit from applying gypsum if our pH is too low. At pH 6 with gypsum yield is 26% higher (based on research from years ago) compared with pH 5.6 with gypsum. That is a major shift! Lime fields to get a pH of 6.2 to make sure all spots in the field have pH values greater than 5.8. The bacteria in inoculant (or native bacteria in soil) that fixes nitrogen is much more effective when soil pH is higher.

Potassium was a little high (interferes with calcium uptake) – This is another topic I have spent a lot of time on at meetings. If the soil test calls for K, it should be applied. Incorporate it into the rooting zone. Do not skimp on the gypsum. I do not think this is a major contributor to lower yields unless you apply large amounts of K. We have applied 250 pounds of Potash per acre on the soil surface and not observed an adverse impact of K on yield or quality.

Zinc index was marginal (average of 250 means some spots might be higher) – Zinc can be a major issue in some fields, especially in the central coastal plain. Even when the zinc index is below 250, there is a good chance there are areas with higher levels of zinc. The average is the average and can be misleading in terms of risk. You could be experiencing some yield loss in areas where the zinc index is greater than 250 even though the average for the field suggests that everything would be fine.

Postemergence herbicides applied during flowering under stressed conditions (Cobra and Ultra Blazer) – We certainly need to control weeds to protect yield. Sometimes this means we need to apply contact herbicides when peanuts struggle to grow out of the injury from the herbicides. We cannot change our approach to weed control a great deal with the herbicides we currently have in peanuts, but when we apply contact herbicides later in the season under dry conditions, we can take a yield hit of a few hundred pounds. However, the weeds might take 800 pounds from us if they are not controlled.

Thrips injury and Gramoxone injury (can handle one but not both) – If you have a lot of thrips damage and decide to apply paraquat you are very likely to get a substantial yield hit. With imidacloprid performing less effectively across some areas of the state, we may be applying paraquat to peanuts that have too much thrips injury. This could be costing us yield.

Wet year and rootworms (low areas might have some damage) – Going forward we do not have chemical alternatives to chlorpyrifos. Variation in soil texture and drainage in fields, especially in wet years, could be causing us reductions in yield in those spots from rootworms. There is no solution to this reality at the present time.

Dug a week earlier than I should have (5%) – I think this is a major culprit to yield loss. You cannot dig all of your peanuts at the same time and with our acreage, weather patterns and digging/harvesting capacity we just cannot get every field dug at the right time to maximize pod yield, market grades and financial return. Still, the more acres you have that are dug too early or too late may explain lower yields. Coming back to your neighbor again, you might do some math here to see how many diggers and combines are running for their acreage compared with what you are doing. Some investment here might make a difference.

Finally, at the meetings I shared that I was reading a book about Jimmy Carter. It was a great read and I learned a lot about him from that book (Jimmy Carter, A Life by Jonathan Alter.) Jimmy Carter was many things, including a peanut farmer, governor and president. It’s not often you see a peanut variety listed in a book like this (Virginia Bunch 67) and that opened the door for me to talk about the variety Bailey and the person whose name it carries. Almost a generation has passed since the person this variety was named for passed away – Jack Bailey. Like Jimmy Carter, Jack was many things including a plant pathologist, mentor, father and friend. I gained much from my short time with and around Jack. The variety Bailey, and now Bailey II and likely Bailey III will continue to be testaments to his contributions to peanut plant pathology. He had great stories too, and sometime in the next few years I am sure I will share one of those again (The Tale of Spider Mites and the Leaf Spot Advisory: How One Picture Reveals Almost Everything.)