by Merritt Melancon, Southeast Farm Press
The lucky legume has been part of a boom-and-bust cycle for the past three decades thanks to a pod-feeding weevil that has, so far, evaded farmers’ best pest control practices.
This year is going to be a bust due to high pest pressure, said David Riley, a professor of entomology at the University of Georgia who works with vegetable pests.
Earlier this month, scientists from across the United States and farmers from across the Southeast gathered in Savannah, Georgia, for the Southern Pea Workshop, part of the annual Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference. Their goal was to develop strategies for controlling the cowpea curculio, a relative of the boll weevil that has a taste for peas.
“The crop is really under severe pest pressure,” Riley said. “It’s not a new problem, but it’s one that reoccurs every few years … Some years the crop is good, but the reason this has reached a critical point this year is because the last few available insecticides that we were using to control this pest have stopped working.”
The pest pressure was so bad last year that the largest pea grower in Georgia’s largest pea-growing county, Colquitt County, sold his pea-shelling equipment at the end of the season, said Jenna Brock, a UGA Cooperative Extension agent in Colquitt County. He won’t grow peas anymore, she said.
“They were our main pea grower, with hundreds of acres, and he’s just gotten out of it,” Brock said. “He still grows other vegetables – spinach and some corn – but peas that were packaged and sold frozen in the grocery store have been a big part of his business.”
Colquitt County went from growing almost 1,800 acres of Southern peas in 2015 to less than 500 acres in 2016, Brock said. She doesn’t expect many farmers to increase their acreage in the 2017 season.
“If we can’t solve this problem, Southern peas will never come back to Georgia in a big way,” Riley said.
David Riley and a southern pea working group funded by the Southern IPM Center are examining options to help farmers with pest and disease problems related to southern peas.