Add 600 to 800 pounds of peanut yield per acre without additional production costs.

Sounds like a line from a snake oil salesman, but the results are genuine, says Texas Extension plant pathologist Chip Lee.

“The key is to remove soil from the peanut stem,” Lee said during a recent peanut production and marketing seminar in Lubbock.

Lee says the first cotyledon should be above ground. ‘If it's covered, we reduce yield potential as much as 20 percent. The soil stifles the bloom of the peanut crown and delays maturity. Farmers have to wait on the limb crop and they limit the crown crop.”

He says dirt on the stem also puts organic matter in contact with tender tissues. “Most of the soil rotting diseases grow on dead organic matter and produce oxalic acid, which kills more tissue. The fungus grows and consumes tissue, produces more acid and kills more.”

Lee said farmers can avoid dirt on the peanut stem by planting on “as tall a bed as possible, but not a flat bed. With a flat bed, we get a small depression when we plant and erosion rolls dirt into the depression and around the plant. A sharper bed moves the soil away from the plant. Put up as sharp a bed as possible, especially with irrigated peanuts.”

He says fall tillage and planting in a stale seedbed also helps manage soil and reduces wind erosion. He said planting wheat or other small grain in the row middles also provides protection for seedlings.

Lee said the Chinese manually remove soil from around the peanut plant and have increased yield potential.

“The Chinese produce 10 times as many peanuts as we can. But their average farm is about three acres, so they plant, hoe and remove soil from around the stems by hand. They have so much labor they can do that. They also interplant with wheat and do not kill the wheat.

“We know that dirt hurts the crop,” Lee said. “Using a cover crop and eliminating cultivation helps. Anytime we throw dirt to the plants we reduce yield. And we often find a fine line between pitching out and pitching in. If we're just a little bit off, we pitch dirt into the plant.”

Lee said row patterns also affect yield. Planting perpendicular to the prevailing winds may encourage disease infection. Planting parallel to prevailing winds reduces diseases such as pod rot.

“Planting perpendicular on a flat bed creates a depression on one side of the row and mini sand dunes form on the downwind side of the row. Planting parallel allows the dirt to blow down the rows without piling up against the plants,

“That's the only reason we know for improved yields with parallel planting patterns,” he said.

Lee said cultural practices cost nothing and may make up for the relatively few new products coming on for peanut disease control. “We only have one new fungicide this year, Endura, from BASF. It will compete with Omega 500.”

He said Endura will not be a stand-alone product for leaf spot but is a broad-spectrum fungicide with good activity on schlerotinia blight. Application recommendation is 55 to 60 days after planting, about the first week in July for the first treatment.

“Prevention is the key,” he said.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com