MOULTRIE — While Colquitt County spring produce has had a stable year, the drought is taking its toll on row crops. Lack of moisture is only part of the problem with aggressive pests and weeds plaguing producers.

Taking a look at acreage, cotton production is up. Last year, just less than 59,000 acres were planted in cotton, compared to this year’s 63,000 acres. Peanut acreage, on the other hand, has been cut by a nearly a third from more than 20,000 acres last year to nearly 14,000. Corn acreage is up by about 850 acres to between 4,000 and 4,500 acres.

Only four rain events of any impact occurred in the past four months, said University of Georgia Agricultural Extension Agent Scott Brown. During planting season in May, the county had uniform rainfall but saw no more good rain until Hurricane Alberto in mid-June.

Overall, that was a “big Band-Aid” for much of the county, Brown said. But 10 days later, row crops began to stress again as dry weather tightened its grip until the rains came again last week to relieve most of the county. However, that rain skipped Ellenton and Hartsfield, so fields in that area remain the most parched.

Eighty percent of peanuts and cotton is holding fairly well with the lack of rain so the situation isn’t desperate yet, Brown said, but the county still needs a good soak by this weekend.

If not, the drier areas have a high potential for premature cut out, which means the cotton will bloom out and terminate as far as boll production at that point, he said. Likely, half of the cotton in those areas, due to varying planting times, would be at risk, representing 10 percent of the county’s cotton crop.

The big story in weed pressure is Palmer amaranth, or pigweed, a major, aggressive weed that can grow to head-tall and wrist-thick. Pigweed prevents producers from effectively inverting their peanuts and can even bend the bars on a cotton picker, Brown said. Pigweed in Colquitt County is showing 80-plus percent resistance to Staple and Envoke, popular cotton ALS-inhibitor herbicides, which also means that the weed would be highly resistant to Cadre, a peanut ALS-inhibitor herbicide also popular among growers.

“Last year, we documented 37 fields that showed some resistance anywhere from a little bit to full-blown, 100 percent — we didn’t kill anything. This year, we have been killing in the range of 20 to 30 percent of Palmer amaranth with those herbicides, no more than that,” Brown said.

The best prevention is at pre-planning and early post-emergent stage, he said. In peanuts, the weeds must not be taller than two inches tall to get good control with chemicals. In cotton, glyphosate (Roundup), can be used up to about 19 to 21 days after planting time.

Already, three Georgia counties have pigweed that is resistant to glyphosate, and it’s a matter of time before Colquitt County will begin to see the same, Brown said.

“It’s not just a matter of ‘if,’ it’s ‘when,’” he said.

The bulk of the peanut crop was been planted later than usual. For the last 12 years in an attempt to dodge the impact of the dreaded tomato spotted wilt (TSW) virus, producers have been planting in early to mid-May. Peanuts are more drought tolerant in earlier stages. The crop doesn’t have a high water demand until 50 days old, so it hasn’t been negatively affected by the lack of rain until now.

“We’re not hurting on those as badly as we are in cotton,” Brown said.

However, dry weather is ideal for lesser cornstalk borers, pests which are fairly hard to control without rain. Rain causes lesser cornstalk borers to become infected with disease, he said, and often that would take care of the problem. Irrigation helps but not to the extent of a good rainfall, he said.

Brown urged growers to inspect their fields for dying or wilting peanut plants. The best control is prevention, but since several generations of the pest will proliferate in a field, growers can use chlorpyrifos granules to prevent future generations from building, he said. Unfortunately, water is needed to activate the granules for treatment.

Peanuts are also suffering from seedling diseases, such as aspergillus crown rot. This crown rot is affecting the crop at a lesser extent, he said. One good thing, he added, the dry weather tamps peanut leaf spot.

Many Colquitt County cotton fields are suffering from heavy aphid pressure. Brown said the decision whether to control aphids can be tricky, but there are products on the market to do so.

There is a fungus in aphids that will build up when the weather is humid and cause the aphid population to decline significantly or “crash” after about 10 days. The aphid fungus has shown up, he said, but it’s been so dry that it’s not proliferating very fast and not coming to the aid of producers.

The tobacco bud worm and corn ear worm pressure are at the lowest levels Brown said he’s seen, but stinkbugs are at their usual level in the county. Last year at the second week of bloom, the levels of stinkbug were so bad that it was past time for treatment. This year at the same time, only 60 percent of field were needing treatment for stinkbug, he said.

“That’s our No. 1 pest that causes more yield loss now more than any others,” Brown said.

Tobacco acreage continues to decline. More than 1,600 acres were planted last year, but this year only between 1,200 and 1,300 acres were planted, Brown said. During the gold leaf’s hey-day in Colquitt County, there were more than 3,500 acres dedicated to tobacco. Only about 13 producers planted tobacco this year compared to 19 last year. In 2004, there were 31 producers, he said.

In tobacco, the incidence of TSW is variable, but the county currently is averaging 35 percent of fields infected. Some fields are below 10 percent infected, and some more than 50 percent, he said. Not much TSW has been spotted in peanuts, but it’s still early, he said.

TSW tends to be worse in some fields more than others, depending on the surrounding native vegetation. There are more than 500 different plants known to host the disease, he said, and some are reservoir hosts that might not exhibit symptoms, such as honeysuckle. Thrips, the little flying pests that transmit the disease, feed on honeysuckle and other native vegetation before moving into a field.

“We know that we have locations that are hot every year. We can only assume that it’s because of the vegetation associated with the field,” he said.

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