Under heat, drought

Texas peanut crop potential declines A TEXAS peanut crop that had the makings of "the biggest ever" may be no more than "mediocre" by the time harvest is done.

"With good June rainfall and 350,000 acres planted, we felt like this could be the state's biggest crop ever," said Texas A&M Extension plant pathologist Chip Lee. "But the crop, especially the dryland acreage, is hurting and yield likely will be average."

Lee said extended drought and intense heat may result in as much as 100,000 acres of dryland peanuts abandoned. "That much acreage may never see a digger this year," Lee said during a peanut management session at the recent Western Agricultural Chemical Institute annual meeting in Lubbock.

"The Southern Plains crop will not be as good as it was last year or the year before," he said.

Doyle Welch, Deleon Peanut Company, said heat is the crop's worst enemy for the next few weeks. "When temperatures go above 95 degrees, peanut plants shut down," Welch said. "They may have a lot of fruit but nothing to feed it with."

Disease and insect pressure had been light through August, Welch said.

Lesser cornstalk borers were causing concern in early September, however. Extension reports indicated LCB levels nearing threshold in many Southern High Plains fields.

Gaines County Extension Integrated Pest Management specialist Clyde Crumley, said, "Several peanut fields in the county have economic levels of Lesser Cornstalk Borers. It appears that the most heavily infested fields are either very short of water or being irrigated with drag hoses. Peanuts with adequate water or under sprinkler systems are not affected as much."

Crumley recommends farmers treat LCB infestations that reach a 15 percent threshold with Lorsban 15G, 13 pounds per acre. "That's a $28 per acre cost," he said. "This product must be watered in with at least an inch of water."

Crumley said Lorsban cannot be applied within 21 days of harvest. "If a grower is more than 30 days away from harvest and determines an economic threshold, treatment is needed. Although direct economic loss may not be incurred this late since LCB will feed on pegs and young pods, feeding on mature pods will predispose peanuts to aflatoxin.

"We may see a legitimate threat of Segregation III peanuts coming from affected pods."

Crumley said the decision to spend another $28 per acre on a peanut crop that has already incurred significant expense will be a tough one.

"However, we do not want a reputation in west Texas for Segregation III peanuts." He said a good irrigation or rainfall may keep LCB numbers below threshold levels.

Despite the current challenges, Lee and Welch believe the west Texas peanut industry future is bright.

"We haven't missed making a crop for the past seven years," said Welch. "West Texas is the envied spot in the industry. When we topped 100,000 acres, we became a real player. We hit that about four years ago."

Lee said Texas could play an even bigger role. "I think we will continue to grow peanuts in the High Plains," he said, "even with concerns about water shortages. I think we may even grow peanuts farther north as we develop shorter-season varieties. The shortest we have now is 115 days. As we reduce that, we'll move peanuts into new areas and reduce water demand."

Lee said Texas growers produce peanuts cheaper than anyone else in the nation. "Peanuts are here to stay, and there is no reason we can't extend the rowing range.

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