Jordan March Peanut Grower Magazine Column Peanut Notes No. 17 2024

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We often see our most important challenges as the ones we experienced most recently, and in particular what happened in last year’s crop. How often does that issue translate into the growing season that is just around the corner? We probably know the answer, or at least mine would be, not all that often. But we will do things to keep that problem from being a problem again, regardless of how often it will happen. Of course, some things are relatively constant. In the V-C region, we know each year we have predictable populations of weeds in our fields and that we will have significant injury from thrips if we don’t apply insecticide when we plant. We also know that response to soil acidity (pH), fertilizer and inoculant for nitrogen fixation are quite consistent from year to year. And of course, leaf spot is a common denominator and we know digging date matters. But presence of some pests and a positive return on some practices are less predictable going into the season. We know that some factors (soil characteristics, weather patterns, planting dates, and varieties) create greater risk than others. However, we just don’t know exactly how the season will play out until it gets going and comes to a close.

2024 was a very unique season for peanut production. May and early June were about as cold as most folks can remember. We had a cool snap in late September that delayed or stopped further pod maturation, and then October seemed cooler than the new normal followed by a hard freeze on November 2 (in the upper V-C region.) All of this occurred with the backdrop of the warmest year on record worldwide, based on the UN. It seemed like for about a decade, temperatures in September were about like August. But in 2 of the past 3 growing seasons, we had a cool snap around September 20 that slowed the pace of pod maturity in a major way. Large swings in weather from year to year and region to region are a part of the new norm. And those swings are related to a planet that has experienced changes in climate that are less predictable, with more extremes, due in large part to a warming planet. This brings in more risk to our production of peanuts because of the unpredictable nature of our growing seasons. A big question is can we successfully manage our crop knowing that some of the principles we have relied on in the past are likely to be less effective or at least less effective at times than they used to be. For example, when will pests become more of an issue in the cropping cycle? How does planting date play into that estimation? These two questions have always played a major role in our decision-making process, but there seems to be more unknowns because of the unpredictable weather now than in the past. It is more important now than ever before to consider the risks of each practice we put in place and think about what we need to do from a preventive standpoint versus what we can do from a reactive standpoint. What flexibility do we have to minimize the adverse effect of each challenge that comes our way?

I’ve got more questions than answers in this column. Hopefully, over the next few months, I’ll be able to present ideas on practices that can help minimize risk to yield with the unknowns we have. With that said, right now we can work toward getting pH across each field up to 6.0 with no areas less than 5.8. We can use our soil test reports to apply fertilizers at the right rate across the entire field. Regardless of our tillage system, we can do things proactively to make sure peanuts are weed-free when they emerge. And we can select systemic insecticides that are effective against thrips and apply inoculant for nitrogen fixation when we plant regardless of rotation history. Irrespective of weather patterns, these practices will bring home a positive return on investment.