Jimmy Carter Was Right: Herbicides Have Improved Peanut Yields

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In a 1977 Question-and-Answer Session with Department of Agriculture employees, President Carter recalled the tremendous growth in peanut yields on his Georgia farm which resulted when they stopped plowing. He credited research that showed that more plowing meant less yield. It turns out that he was right: the plowing spread disease that lowered peanut yield. Herbicides made the reduction in plowing possible and improvements in herbicides have continued to benefit peanut farmers.

“Improvements in weed management are a contributing factor to advancements in peanut yield. …Cultivation was traditionally an integral component in peanut weed management. New herbicide developments improved overall weed control and cultivation is no longer needed. This directly addresses the susceptibility of peanut to infection by soil-inhabiting fungi. There is a direct correlation between incidence of stem rot and displaced soil thrown on peanut plants from cultivation. Not needing to cultivate lessens disease epidemics and protects peanut yield. In 2013, 21 herbicide active ingredients were registered in the U.S. for weed control in peanut. In contrast, there were 12 herbicide active ingredients registered for use on peanut in 1980. Recently developed herbicides are more consistent, versatile, and have a broader-spectrum than earlier herbicides. …There were no selective postemergence herbicides registered in 1980 that controlled emerged grasses. In  2013, there were three postemergence herbicides registered for use on peanut to control annual and perennial grasses…. Registrations of these herbicides were major weed control milestones in peanut production and have largely eliminated yield losses from grasses that escaped earlier control efforts.”

Author: Johnson, W. C.
Affiliation: USDA-ARS, Tifton GA
Title: Yield Advances in Peanut – Weed Control Effects
Source: 2013 Proceedings of the American Peanut Research and Education Society, Inc. http://apresinc.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Volume-45-Proceedings_2013.pdf

Jimmy Carter Lived the Weed Nightmare

Our 39th President, Jimmy Carter, grew up on a peanut and cotton farm long before herbicides were available to manage weeds. In his autobiography, President Carter recounts the nightmare of trying to control weeds with tractors and hand labor.

“Our part of Georgia receives about fifty inches of rain during an average year, mostly during the spring and early summer… However, depending entirely on draft animals and hand labor, small variations in the rain pattern could be devastating. … The dry ground permitted the mule-drawn cultivating plows and hoes to restrain the ever-encroaching weeds and grass. However, when no plowing was possible because of several successive days of rain, the noxious plants were uncontrollable. Something like the terrible creeping and oozing things in horror movies, Bermuda grass, coffeeweed, cocklebur, Johnsongrass, beggar-lice, and nut grass would emerge from what had been a cleanly cultivated field, and in a few days our entire crop of young peanuts and cotton could be submerged in a sea of weeds. Often, despite the most heroic efforts by the best farmers, parts of the crop would have to be abandoned. Although partially salvaged, the remaining young plants were heavily damaged by the aggressive plowing and hoeing. During these rainy times, Daddy would pace at night, scan the western skies for a break in the clouds, and scour the community, often far from our own farm, to recruit any person willing to hoe or pull up weeds for day wages.”

Author: Jimmy Carter
Publication: An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood. 2001. Simon & Schuster, New York.