Cutting Pesticides on Peanuts
Peanut Farmers Reduce Insecticides in Dynamic Research Group
|North Carolina farmer Hubert Morris (pictured) and other growers cut expenses by $20 an acre by applying an over-the-row peanut pesticide only when they observe crop-damaging thrips. Were using a more environmentally friendly pesticide at an extremely reduced rate, Morris says. Photo by Scott Marlow, RAFI.|
About 25 years ago, the Morrises were among the first farmers in their North Carolina community to stop tilling their corn and soybeans. Today, farmer Hubert Morris, who raises cotton and peanuts, continues to stay in the forefront of change. Armed with two SARE producer grants and active in an on-farm research network run by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), he runs trials to test how to reduce insecticide use on peanut pests.
Morris has learned ways to reduce insecticide useand costs totaling $20 an acrein his peanut plots and is experimenting with ways to increase cotton yields. Producing peanuts can be a chemically intensive enterprise, with annual pesticide bills reaching as high as 33 percent of peanut production costs. Morris and other farmers working with RAFI began using a foliar-applied pesticide to control thrips, small insects that burrow into peanut buds. Using the over-the-plant alternative rather than a preventative pesticide applied across their entire peanut fields means the farmers cut usage from seven pounds per acre to half a pound per acre on each farm. Moreover, they only use it where they need it, said Scott Marlow, RAFIs peanut project director. The reduced-rate pesticide is also less toxic.
More than 60 farmers have participated in RAFI-led field trials, testing and adapting new methods of peanut production since 1995. According to Marlow, when compared to 1994 numbers, those farmers reduced their pesticide use by 250,000 pounds of active ingredient by the year 2000. Eight-five percent increased their profits, and most reported no yield reduction.
With a second SARE grant, Morris evaluated ways to reduce vegetation and the height of cotton plants with alternative products like corn syrup, thus leaving more energy for boll development. This time, he was less successful, but presses on with experiments such as composting cotton gin trash to improve soil quality. If I was doing the same old thing all the time, it would get boring and I might retire, he said, but this is so interesting I dont want to stop, and occasionally it does work out financially.
[For more information, go to www.sare.org/projects/ and search for FS96-044 and FS98-078]