Commercial Pepper Production

CULTURE AND VARIETIES
Soil Management
Cover Crops
Windbreaks
Transplanting
Plant Spacing
Varieties

TRANSPLANT PRODUCTION

PEPPER PRODUCTION USING PLASTIC MULCH
Types of Plastic
Mulched Bed Preparation
Plastic Mulch Fertilization
Planting

IRRIGATION
Sprinkler Irrigation
Frost Protection
Drip Irrigation
Scheduling Irrigation

PHYSIOLOGICAL PROBLEMS

LIME AND FERTILIZER MANAGEMENT
Starter Fertilizer Solution
Fertilizer Management
Soil pH
Phosphorus and Potassium Recommendations
Nitrogen Recommendations
Magnesium, Sulfur, Zinc and Boron Recommendations
Foliar Application of Fertilizer

SPRAYERS
Pumps
Nozzles
Nozzle Arrangements

DISEASES
Bacterial Diseases
Virus Diseases
Fungus Diseases
Ripe Rot
Stem Rot
Southern Blight
Nematodes

INSECT MANAGEMENT
Seedling Pests
Foliage Feeders
Pod Feeders

WEED CONTROL
Factors Affecting Weed Control
Methods of Weed Control

HARVESTING AND HANDLING
Field Maturity
Harvesting
Postharvest Handling
Grading and Packing
Cooling and Shipping

MARKETING
Production
Distribution
Pricing
Wholesale Buyer Preferences

PRODUCTION COSTS
Types of Costs
Cost per Unit of Production
Budget Uses
Risk Rated Net Returns

SUMMARY

CULTURE AND VARIETIES

Darbie M. Granberry , Extension Horticulturist-Vegetable Crops & Paul Colditz, Extension Horticulturist Emeritus

Peppers grow well in warm climates with a long growing season. Although they grow best in light, fertile, well-drained soils, they can be grown successfully wih proper soil management in a wide range of soil types throughout Georgia.

Soil Management

Plants depend on the soil for (1) physical support and anchorage, (2) nutrients, and (3) water. The degree to which the soil adequately provides these three factors depends upon topography, soil type and soil structure. Also, soil management significantly influences the soil's capacity to enhance plant growth and productivity.

Tillage is a general term that refers to any operation that disrupts and/or moves the soil typically within 10 inches to 12 inches of the soil surface. For pepper production, proper tillage is crucial for adequate soil manageent and optimal yields.

Land preparation involves one or more tillage operations to make the soil more suitable for seeding and seedling (or transplant) establishment and to provide the best soil structure for root growth and development.

The extent to which the root systems of pepper plants develop is influenced, and in many cases is limited, by the soil profile. Root growth will be restricted if there is a hard pan, compacted layer or generally "tight soil" conditions. Peppers are considered to be moderately deep rooted and under favorable conditions will grow to a depth of 36 to 48 inches.

Since root development is severely limited by compacted soil, proper land preparation should eliminate or significantly reduce soil compaction. Tillage systems using the moldboard ("bottom") plow provide the greatest soil volume conducive to vigorous root growth. This allows the development of more extensive root systems which are more efficient extractors of nutrients and water from the soil. Disking after moldboard plowing tends to recompact the soil and should be avoided.

Compaction pans are present in many Georgia soils. They are formed principally by machinery and, when present, are normally located at or just below plow depths. Even though compaction pans may be only a few inches thick, their inhibitory effects on root growth can significantly reduce pepper yields.

If a compaction pan exists just below or near moldboard plow depth, this hard pan can be disrupted by subsoiling to a depth of 16 to 18 inches to allow the development of a more extensive root system. Subsoiling also helps increase water infiltration.

If there is an abundance of plants or plant residues on the soil surface, disking or mowing followed by disking is usually advised prior to moldboard plowing. Immediately prior to transplanting, do final soil preparation and/or bedding with a rotary tiller, bed press, bedding disk, or a double disc hiller in combination with a leveling board. This provides a crustless, weed free soil for the establishment of transplants.

Peppers may be planted or transplanted on flat or raised beds. A raised bed will warm up more quickly in the spring and therefore may enhance earlier growth. Since peppers do poorly in excessively wet soils, a raised bed facilitates drainage and helps prevent "wet feet" in low or poorly drained soils. Keep in mind, however, that peppers planted on raised beds may also require more irrigation during drought conditions.

Cover Crops

Winter cover crops help protect the soil from water and wind erosion. When incorporated into the soil as "green manure," cover crops contribute organic matter to the soil.

Soil organic matter consists of plant and animal residues in various stages of decay. Organic matter (1) improves soil structure (helps to reduce compaction and crusting), (2) increases water infiltration, (3) decreases water and wind erosion, (4) increases the soil's ability to resist leaching of many plant nutrients, and (5) releases plant nutrients during decomposition.

The planting of cover crops and subsequent incorporation of the green manure into the soil enhances pepper production in Coastal Plain soils. Georgia pepper growers frequently plant wheat, oats, rye or ryegrass as winter cover crops. If these non-nitrogen fixing cover crops are to be incorporated as green manure, provide them with adequate nitrogen during their growth. This increases the quantity of organic matter produced and provides a carbon:nitrogen (C:N) ratio less likely to "tie up" or immobilize nitrogen during decomposition. As a general rule, when non-leguminous organic matter having a C:N ratio exceeding 30 to 1 is incorporated, a supplemental nitrogen application (usually 20 to 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre) prior to incorporation is recommended. The exact rate required will depend on the C:N ratio, soil type and amount of any residual nitrogen in the soil. Plow green manure crops under as deep as possible with a moldboard plow at least two weeks prior to transplanting peppers.

Windbreaks

An often-overlooked crop protection aid is that of crop windbreaks. Frequency or intervals between windbreaks is dictated by distance between pepper rows, spray or harvest alleyway intervals, land availability and equipment characteristics. In general, close windbreaks give the best wind protection and help moderate pepper plants' microenvironment and enhance earliness. Especially in south Georgia, windbreaks reduce damage from sand-blasting of plants and small fruit during early spring.

Regardless of the species selected to be used as a windbreak, it should be planted early enough to be effective as a windbreak by the time peppers are transplanted. Establishment of a windbreak crop during the fall or early winter should ensure enough growth for an effective windbreak by spring pepper planting time. Pepper beds can be established within the windbreak crop by roto-tilling the bed area.

To minimize the possibility of insect migration to the pepper crop, windbreak crops should be destroyed by mowing and/or rototilling before they lose their green color and begin to die back.

Transplanting

Although pepper may be seeded directly in the field, this is not usually recommended. Direct seeding has several disadvantages: (1) Weed control is usually much more difficult with direct seeded than with transplanted pepper, (2) direct seeding requires especially well made seedbeds and specialized planting equipment to adequately control depth of planting and in-row spacing, (3) because of the shallow planting depth required for pepper seed, the field must be nearly level to prevent seeds from being washed away or covered too deeply with water transported soil, and (4) spring harvest dates will be at least three to four weeks later for direct seeded pepper. At 59 degrees, 68 degrees, and 77 degrees F soil temperature, pepper seed require 25, 13 and eight days, respectively, for emergence.

Typically, five to six week old pepper seedlings are transplanted into the field. As with most other vegetable crops, either field grown (bare-root) or container grown transplants may be used. Container grown transplants retain transplant growing medium (soil-substitute) attached to their roots after removal from the container (flat, tray). Many growers prefer this type transplant because (1) they are less subject to transplant shock, (2) usually require little, if any, replanting, (3) resume growth more quickly after transplanting, and (4) grow and produce more uniformly.

Pepper transplants should be hardened off before transplanting in the field. Hardening off is a technique used to slow plant growth prior to field setting so the plant can more successfully withstand unfavorable conditions in the field.

For maximum production, transplants should never have fruits, flowers, or flower buds before transplanting. An ideal transplant is young (8 inches to 12 inches tall with a stem approximately 3/8 inch to 1/4 inch in diameter), does not exhibit rapid vegetative growth, and is slightly hardened at transplanting time. Rapid growth following transplanting helps assure a well established plant before fruit development.

Transplants should be set as soon as possible after removing from containers or after pulling. If it is necessary to hold pepper plants for several days before transplanting them, keep them cool (around 55 degrees - 65 degrees F if possible) and do not allow the roots to dry out prior to transplanting. When setting plants, roots should be placed three inches to four inches deep. Peppers grow best if nightime soil temperatures average more than 60 degrees F.

At transplanting, apply an appropriate fertilizer starter solution (see Fertilizer Management section). After transplanting (especially within the first two weeks) it is very important that soil moisture be maintained so that plant roots can become well established.

Plant Spacing

The optimal plant population per acre depends upon plant growth habit (compact, medium, spreading), plant size (small, medium, large) at maturity, vigor of specific cultivars, climate, soil moisture and nutrient availability and soil productivity. Adequate populations for the many different types and cultivars of peppers range from approximately 6,000 to 15,000 plants per acre.

Sweet bell pepper types are more compact than many other kinds of pepper and rows should be spaced 36 to 42 inches apart with 12 inches to 16 inches between plants in the row. Normally from 12,000 to 15,000 plants per acre are considered adequate for bell pepper production. Often bell peppers are transplanted 12 inches apart in 34 inch to 36 inch rows. For other kinds of peppers, which produce larger type plants, the population should be decreased accordingly.

Varieties

All commercially important peppers grown in Georgia belong to the genus Capsicum annuum.Table 1 lists a number of pungent and nonpungent varieties that have been grown in Georgia.

Table 1. Pepper Descriptions
Varieties Days To Harvest /2 Plant Height (3) Plant Habit (4) Lobes Per Fruit
Bell Types (Sweet)
California Wonder (OP) (1) 77 27-30 Upright 4
Early Calwonder (OP) 71 22-26 Slight spread 3-4
California Wonder 300 (OP) 72 24-28 Upright 4
Yolo Wonder L. (OP) 75 25-32 Slight spread 3-4
Keystone Resistant Giant #3 (OP) 74 24-28 Slight spread 4
Jupiter (OP) 70 26-30 Upright 3-4
Bell Captain (H) 72 25-29 Slight spread 4
Gator Belle (H) 70 23-26 Spreading 4
Bell Boy (H) 70 24-26 Upright 4
Summer Sweet 860 (H) 76 28-32 Upright 4
Golden Bell (H) 68 20-24 Upright 4
Pimento Types (Sweet)
Pimento L (OP) 80 18-24 Spreading 1
Pimento Perfection (OP) 78 30-36 Spreading 1
Banana Types (Sweet)
Early Sweet Banana (OP) 66 18-22 Upright 1
Yellow Banana (OP) 72 24-28 Upright 1
Sweet Hungarian (OP) 68 18-20 Upright 1
Pungent Types (Hot)
Jalapeno (OP) 72 26-30 Upright 1
Anaheim M (OP) 78 26-30 Slight spread 1
Long Thin Cayenne (OP) 72 20-24 Slight spread 1
Hungarian Yellow Wax (OP) 68 24-26 Spreading 2
Large Red Cherry (OP) 77 24-26 Slight spread 1
(1) OP = Open pollinated, H = Hybrid; (2) Approximate number of days from transplanting to first harvest; (3) Plant height in inches; (4) Plant habit taken at mid-harvest periods.

TRANSPLANT PRODUCTION

Darbie M. Granberry, Extension Horticulturist-Vegetable Crops

Paul Colditz, Extension Horticulturist Emeritus

Bell pepper growers now have a choice between hybrid types and open-pollinated or nonhybrid types. Production techniques required to produce hybrid pepper seed are labor intensive, require hand emasculation of the female flower and hand cross-pollination from the other parent. The seed-producing female plant must also be protected from insects which might cause unwanted cross-pollination. These production techniques make hybrid pepper seed very expensive (often 10 to 20 times the cost of open-pollinated seed). Seed production for open-pollinated pepper only requires that seedsmen plant a true variety that is properly isolated from other peppers.

Because of the higher cost of hybrid pepper seed, the grower should consider using some type of container-grown transplant which will provide the maximum number of transplants from the hybrid seed planted. One ounce of pepper seed contains approximately 4,500 seed and should produce 3,000 to 4,000 transplants depending upon seed quality.

Containerized plant producers specialize in growing plants in greenhouses designed specifically for the production of transplants. These special houses use plant trays designed to produce the maximum number of transplants per square foot of house space. Plants are usually grown in styrofoam or plastic trays and the cell size in these trays determine the number of transplants per tray and the price per thousand for transplants. In general, the larger cell size will produce a larger plant with a greater stem diameter. It is more costly to produce plants in large cells because there are fewer plants per square foot. In order to insure a satisfactory transplant, cells for pepper transplants should not be smaller than one square inch. This size will produce a six to eight inch tall pepper plant at transplant time. Persons wishing to contract with a grower for transplants should specify the cell size desired, the variety to be planted and a specific delivery date.

Also, determine whether the plant grower or the pepper grower will furnish the seed. Some greenhouse operations use mechanical seeders to plant the seed in the trays or flats. These seeders require that the seed be coated so that all seeds are the same size. Coated seed will increase seed costs and any surplus coated seed cannot be returned to the seed company. The cost to the grower for this type transplant will vary, depending on the volume ordered and the cell size of the tray.

On-Farm Production of Transplants

A few commercial pepper producers grow their own transplants in either greenhouses or in plastic covered beds or under row covers. New growers or persons who have had little or no experience in growing transplants should consider the following check list to determine if on-farm production is practical.

There are two basic greenhouse methods of growing on-farm transplants:

(1) Container grown plants: Seed is planted into individual cells or peat pots, (2) Bed production: Seed are sown in greenhouse beds and plants are pulled bare root.

Container Growing: The most common type of containerized plant production is one where plants are seeded into styrofoam flats or plastic cell packs. After seeding, plastic cell packs are placed in plant trays.

Use commercial potting mix to help eliminate weed and disease related problems. Three cubic feet of potting soil should fill from 16 to 20 flats that have a cell size 1 inches x 1 inches x 2 inches. Three cubic feet of potting soil should produce 1,100 to 1400 transplants.

Non-containerized Transplant Production: Growing transplants in greenhouse ground beds or benches will reduce the cost considerably over container-grown plants. In this method, the beds are filled three to four inches deep with potting soil and seeds sown in narrow rows. A minimum row width of four inches should be used with seeds planted no closer than three seeds per inch of row. This spacing will require about 100 square feet of bed space to produce 10,000 good plants. Closer in-row and between-row spacings produce more transplants but also increases the percentage of cull plants.

Pepper seed will germinate best at a temperature between 80 and 85 degrees Farenheit. Wide fluctuation in greenhouse temperatures will result in delayed emergence of pepper plants. Bottom heat, approaching 85 degrees Farenheit, will greatly enhance uniform emergence of seedlings in about eight days after seeding. Coated seed may require more days for germination and plant emergence.

Transplants may also be produced in outside beds or under covered rows. The growing of plants in an outside covered and heated bed is called hotbed production. If the beds are not heated it is called cold frame production. This type production, while eliminating the need for a greenhouse, also increases the danger from adverse weather. The basic steps used in sowing a greenhouse bed will also apply to outside beds. Outside beds must be vented during sunny days to maintain temperatures in the 85-90 degree range. In unheated beds it is necessary to close the beds early enough in the afternoon to trap sufficient heat to keep the beds as warm as possible during the cool nights. Most heated outdoor beds receive heat from heating cables buried under the soil. These cables are either operated through a thermostat system or they are preset to a given temperature during manufacturing.

Growing pepper transplants under row covers is usually not recommended because they normally do not provide adequate freeze protection. If solid row covers are used it will be necessary at times to vent the cover to reduce high temperatures. Another cost factor in row covers is the wire hoops used to support the plastic. If natural soil is used in outdoor production it should be weed and disease free. This usually requires that the area be fumigated before using. For outdoor transplant production, seed can either be broadcasted or planted in rows. Row production will facilitate plant pulling and should result in a greater number of usable transplants.

Field Grown Transplants: Commercial plant growers begin direct seeding pepper as soon as growing conditions permit. More than one planting may be required before a stand is achieved. If plants reach transplant size before conditions are suitable for transplanting, they may be clipped to retard growth and provide more uniform transplants. There are advantages and disadvantages to this clipping process. If properly timed, clipping will result in more compact plants with larger stems. The recommendations for clipping certified transplants should be followed in order to prevent or lessen disease development. Contact your local county Extension agent for recommendations regarding certified transplant production.

Field grown transplants are pulled and bulk packed bare-root in wire bound, wood veneer crates and loaded directly on air-conditioned trucks for shipment to distant points. Upon arrival, the grower should place these plant crates in a cool area, provide ventilation, and not allow the roots to dry. Plants that must be held over 24 hours before transplanting should be inspected to insure the plant foliage is not wet and not going through a "heat" in the box. If plants begin to dry out, the bottom of the boxes can be dipped in water, using care not to wet stems and foliage. In some situations it may be necessary to remove plants from the shipping boxes to provide more ventilation. The process of spreading out relatively small bundles of plants and covering their roots with a suitable medium is called heeling-in. Properly heeled-in plants should be placed upright in moist sawdust or clean (free of insects and disease) soil with enough distance between plants to allow the foliage to remain dry.

Field production of pepper transplants for on-farm use in Georgia is usually not practical for growers who want to have early pepper production. Production of non-containerized plants under plastic tunnels or in enclosed plastic structures is feasible for growers using bare-root plants. However, in Georgia, there is a trend away from bare-root to container-grown transplants which retain growing medium (soil substitute) attached to their roots after removal from the container. Many growers prefer these transplants because (1) they are less susceptible to transplant shock, (2) usually require little, if any, replanting, (3) resume growth more quickly after transplanting, and (4) grow and produce more uniformly.

Greenhouse production of containerized pepper transplants requires specialized skills, intensive management, and a significant capital investment. It is not usually economically feasible to grow containerized plants only for use on an individual farm. In general, pepper growers desiring to use containerized transplants should arrange for a reputable, experienced, containerized plant grower to produce plants for them.

PEPPER PRODUCTION USING PLASTIC MULCH

Charles S. Vavrina*, Former Extension Horticulturist-Vegetable Crops

The use of plastic mulch in the production of peppers is increasing in the Southeast. Plastic mulch is used to promote earliness, reduce weed pressure, and to conserve moisture and fertilizer.

Advantages: Plastic mulch promotes earliness by trapping heat which increases soil temperatures and accelerates growth. Black plastic will prevent the establishment of many in-row weeds. Yellow and purple nutsedges are not controlled by black plastic mulch and suitable fumigants must be applied if nutsedge is a potential problem. Mulch will reduce fertilizer leaching from pepper beds and will conserve moisture by eliminating the soil evaporation component. Furthermore, where fumigants are used, plastic mulch provides a barrier which increases fumigant efficiency.

Disadvantages: Specialized equipment is required to lay plastic mulch which means increased variable costs for custom application or the purchase of this equipment. The cost of plastic removal is an additional expense. In some instances plastic mulch culture has increased yields sufficiently to offset these potential disadvantages.

Types of Plastic

One mil black plastic is the cheapest and most often used in pepper production. Embossed plastic has a reinforced woven component that minimizes the risk of tear elongation. This can be important, particularly in plastic double cropping operations (example: following spring peppers with cucumbers) where wind entry through a tear may promote further damage to the plastic.

Summer planted pepper crops for fall production cannot tolerate excessively high soil temperatures. Therefore, they should be planted on white plastic which does not heat the soil as much. For spring production however, white is not recommended since maximum soil warming is needed.

Although biodegradable plastic mulches are presently available, they have not been sufficiently tested in Georgia. These materials have the potential to greatly reduce the cost of plastic removal and disposal. Georgia growers using a biodegradable plastic mulch for the first time should test it on one acre or less until its effectiveness under our conditions is proven.

Mulched Bed Preparation

Bed height and width will depend on several factors; soil type, bedding equipment, available plastic, etc. Standard bed heights may range from three to five inches. Ordinarily plastic mulch must be 20 to 24 inches wider than the bed width preferred so it will cover the sides of the bed and can be tucked under the soil to anchor the plastic. The plastic must fit firmly over the bed to minimize wind movement and facilitate planting. Cover the mulch at the end of each row. This is particularly important when a fumigant is used. Also, any available opening that allows wind entry will cause problems.

Trickle irrigation should be used with plastic mulch, however it is still important to have optimum soil moisture during plastic application. The use of overhead irrigation usually requires the punching of additional holes in the plastic to facilitate water entry. Be aware that additional holes reduce weed control and may increase leaching of nutrients.

Plastic Mulch Fertilization

Preplant fertilizer application is dependent on bed size and planting scheme. On larger beds (five feet or greater) with double rows of peppers, it is advisable to incorporate all phosphorus and micronutrients under the plastic initially. If trickle fertigation is not available, apply all the nitrogen and potassium preplant.

If smaller, single row beds are used, preplant application of all the needed fertilier may result in salt toxicity. Therefore, sidedressing is required by a liquid injection wheel, through trickle irrigation, or a banded application outside the tucked portion of the bed.

If fertigation with trickle irrigation is used, all the P and micronutrients and 1/3 to 1/2 of the N and K should be applied at planting. The remaining N and K should be applied through weekly fertigations of approximately 25 pounds KNO3 and 50 pounds CaNO3 per acre beginning just after transplant establishment. See Extension Bulletin 1008, Plasticulture for Commercial Vegetable Production for specific fertilizer recommendations.

Planting

Most growers have transplanters that are tractor mounted or hand pushed to punch holes in the plastic at the appropriate intervals. If a fumigant is used for soil sterilization it will be necessary to wait the prescribed time period before punching the plastic to insure good fumigant activity. Once punched, another waiting period is necessary to allow for proper fumigant ventilation before the peppers are planted. If a proper waiting period is not observed, some soil fumigants can destroy pepper transplant roots and cause stunting or plant death.

Dr. Vavrina is Assistant Professor, Vegetable Crops Department, Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, Immokalee, Florida.

IRRIGATION

Anthony W. Tyson, Extension Engineer

Irrigation is essential to produce consistent yields of high quality peppers in Georgia. Rainfall amounts are often erratic during the pepper growing season and peppers are often grown in sandy soils which have a low water holding capacity. This combination of factors makes supplemental irrigation necessary for commercial pepper production.

Irrigation studies in the Southeast show that irrigation increases annual pepper yields by an average of at least 60 percent over dryland production. Quality of irrigated peppers is also much better. Irrigation eliminates disastrous crop losses resulting from severe drought.

Peppers are potentially deep rooted (up to four feet). However, in Georgia soils the effective rooting depth is generally much less. Actual root depths will vary considerably, depending upon soil conditions and cultural practices. The effective rooting depth is usually 12 to 18 inches and half of the roots will be in the top six inches. It is important not to allow these roots to dry out or root damage will occur.

Moisture stress in peppers causes shedding of flowers and young fruit, sunscalding and dry rot of fruit. The most critical stages for watering are at transplanting, flowering and fruit development.

Several types of irrigation may be used successfully on peppers in the Southeast. Ultimately, the type chosen will depend on one or more of the following factors:

  1. Availability of existing equipment
  2. Field shape and size
  3. Amount and quality of water available
  4. Labor requirements
  5. Fuel requirements
  6. Cost

Sprinkler Irrigation

Most peppers in Georgia are irrigated with some type of sprinkler irrigation. These systems include center pivot, linear move, travelling gun, permanent set and portable aluminum pipe with sprinklers. Any of these systems are satisfactory if they are used correctly. There are, however, significant differences in initial cost, fuel cost and labor requirements.

Any sprinkler system used on peppers should be able to deliver at least an inch of water every four days. In addition, the system should apply the water slowly enough to prevent run-off. In sandy soils, the application rate should be less than two inches per hour. In loamy or clay soils the rate should not exceed one inch per hour.

Sprinkler systems with a high application uniformity (center pivot, linear move and permanent set) can be used to apply fertilizer. This increases the efficiency of fertilizer utilization by making it readily available to the plant and reducing leaching.

Frost Protection

The most effective method of frost protection in pepper production is overhead irrigation. Timely and complete coverage is required. The distance between sprinklers should be no more than 60 percent of the wetted diameter; place sprinklers no more than 50 percent of the sprinkler radius from the edge of the field. The nozzles should make at least one revolution per minute and should apply 0.12 to 0.15 inch of water per hour. Start sprinklers before the temperature drops to 32 degrees F (say 34 degrees F) and continue irrigating until the temperature rises and the ice begins to melt or until the wet-bulb temperature rises above 32 degrees F.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is becoming more popular for pepper production. Although it can be used with or without plastic mulch, its use is highly recommended with plastic mulch culture. One of the major advantages of drip irrigation is its water use efficiency. Studies in Florida indicate that drip irrigated vegetables require 40 percent less water than sprinkler irrigated vegetables. Weeds are also less of a problem since only the rows are watered and the middles remain dry. Some studies have also shown significant yield increases with drip irrigation and plastic mulch when compared with sprinkler irrigated peppers. The most dramatic yields have been attained by using drip irrigation, plastic mulch and supplementing nutrients by injecting fertilizers into the drip system (fertigation).

Drip tubing may be installed on the soil surface or buried two to three inches deep. When used in conjunction with plastic mulch, the tubing can be installed at the same time the plastic mulch is laid. Usually one line of tubing is installed on each bed. If two rows of peppers are planted on a bed and they are not more than 12 inches apart, then both rows can be watered from the same drip line. A field with beds spaced five feet center to center will require 8712 feet of tubing per acre (one tube per bed).

The tubing is available in various wall thicknesses ranging from three mils to 25 mils. Most growers use thin wall tubing (10 mils or less) and replace it every year. Heavier wall tubing can be rolled up at the end of the season and reused; however, take care in removing it from the field and store in a shelter. Labor costs for removing, storing, and reinstalling irrigation tubing are often prohibitive.

Excellent results have been achieved by injecting at least half of the fertilizer through the drip system. This allows plant nutrients to be supplied to the field as needed. This method also eliminates the need for heavy fertilizer applications early in the season which tend to leach beyond the reach of root systems or cause salt toxicity problems. Only water soluble formulations can be injected through the drip systems. Nitrogen and potassium formulations tend to be more water soluble than phosphorous, and consequently, are more easily injected. These nutrients also tend to leach quicker and need to be supplemented during the growing season. Drip systems should be thoroughly flushed following each fertilizer injection.

Water used in a drip irrigation system should be well filtered to remove any particulate matter which might plug the tubing. The water should be tested for minerals which could precipitate and cause plugging problems.

Scheduling Irrigation

The combined loss of water by evaporation from the soil and transpiration from plant surfaces is called evapotranspiration (ET). Peak ET rates for peppers are about 0.2 inches per day. Factors affecting ET are stage of crop growth, temperature, relative humidity, solar radiation, wind velocity and plant spacing.

Transplant peppers into moist soil and irrigate with 0.3 to 0.5 inch immediately after transplanting to settle the soil around the roots.

Once a root system is established, maintain soil moisture to the 12 inch depth. The sandier soils in South Georgia have an available water holding capacity of about one inch per foot of soil depth. You should not deplete more than 50 percent of the available water before irrigating; therefore, when you use inch, it should be replaced by irrigation. Soils having a higher clay content may have water holding capacities as high as two inches per foot. In these soils you can deplete as much as one inch before irrigating. This means net application amounts should be between 0.5 and 1.0 inch per irrigation. The actual amount applied should be 10 to 20 percent higher to account for evaporation losses and wind drift. The irrigation frequency will depend on daily evapotranspiration. In general, for sprinkler irrigated peppers during peak water use periods, sandy soils should receive 0.6 inch two or three times a week, and clay soils should receive 1.25 inches about every five days.

Irrigation can best be managed by monitoring the amount of moisture in the soil. Tensiometers or electric resistance blocks can be used to measure soil moisture. For best results on peppers, maintain soil moisture below 30 centibars.

Drip irrigation systems need to be operated more frequently than sprinkler systems. Typically, they are operated every day or every other day. Do not saturate the soil with water, especially when using plastic mulch. Plastic mulch will tend to keep the soil from drying out and peppers grow poorly in waterlogged soil.

PHYSIOLOGICAL PROBLEMS

Charles S. Vavrina*, Former Extension Horticulturist-Vegetable Crops

Flower drop in pepper plants is an occasional problem in Georgia. There are several possible reasons for this, all of which indicate plant stress at flowering. The causes of flower drop include: a response to temperature stress (drop occurs at temperatures greater than 94 degrees F and less than 50 degrees F), a response to water stress, a response to shade stress (specific to greenhouse pepper growers), and a response to excess fruitload (the plant will only hold so many peppers). Furthermore, insects (particularly the tarnished plant bug in the southeast) and pepper viruses contribute to flower drop.

Flower abortion actually results from nonfunctional pollen, lack of pollination, or nonfunctioning ovules (the receptacle for the pollen and ultimately the enlarged fruit.) These malfunctions occur due to stress and/or insect or disease problems.

Pollination is more effective in the morning hours and thereby more fruit set occurs then. This is logical as more water and/or temperature stress is apt to occur in the afternoon hours.

Poor fruit set problems can be partially avoided. During cool fall conditions certain row covers moderate temperatures and might help to reduce flower loss. Plastic mulch also helps maintain soil moisture and reduces moisture fluctuations. Maintaining adequate soil moisture helps prevent flower abortion under drought conditions. Overhead irrigation can be used to cool peppers during hot periods to reduce flower loss.

Blossom-end rot in peppers is caused by a calcium deficiency. Fruit losses can vary from a trace to about 10 percent or more, depending on variety, weather, culture, and soil type. Strong signs of calcium deficiency usually occur on fruit 1/3 to 2/3 mature. The first external symptom to appear is a small water-soaked spot at or near the blossom end (opposite the stem) of the pepper. The water soaked spot eventually enlarges with time and becomes dry, sunken, flattened, brown or black, and papery or leathery. Secondary attack by fungal or bacterial organisms may result in fruit rots, but these are not the primary causal factors.

Blossom-end rot is most common during prolonged dry periods, when frequent or heavy rains follow an extended dry period, or when soil conditions are unfavorable for calcium uptake.

Any condition that reduces root ability to absorb water, and hence, take up calcium, sets the plant up for blossom-end rot. Several factors can affect the roots' ability to take up water and calcium including: root-rotting fungi, nematodes, underwatering, root pruning from improper cultivation, soil compaction, overwatering, and overfertilizing.

Lush plant growth can aggrevate the disorder because excessive vegetative growth demands may shunt calcium away from the fruit. Calcium is not translocated within the plant from older to younger tissue, therefore young fruit are especially sensitive to a lack of calcium.

There are some indications that certain nutrients can antagonize the uptake of calcium and intensify blossom-end rot problems. These nutrients include potassium, magnesium, sodium, and ammoniacal nitrogen. It appears that the ammonium ion is the most active in depressing calcium uptake. These nutrients should be used with care during fruit set and development.

To control blossom-end rot, follow the following cultural practices:

  1. Grow pepper crops on well-drained soils; avoid waterlogged fields. Plant on raised beds to insure good drainage.
  2. Apply fertilizers according to soil test results to maintain adequate calcium levels. Avoid the excessive use of ammoniacal or nitrate nitrogen, highly-soluble potassium, magnesium, or sodium salts.
  3. Cultivate shallowly especially after fruit set and in dry weather.
  4. Maintain uniform soil moisture throughout the growing season, but especially as fruit are developing. The use of plastic mulch helps reduce excessively dry or wet conditions experienced during the season.
  5. Foliar application of calcium nitrate or calcium chloride at a rate of three to four pounds in 100 gallons of water lessens the severity of BER but should not be used to the exclusion of the preceding prevention practices.

Sunscald is a noninfectious problem caused by direct sunlight and high temperatures on the pepper fruit. This problem is common to plants having premature foliage loss (usually from pest or mechanical damage). Nitrogen deficiency after fruit set delays canopy development and increases sunscald problems.

Irregular, light-colored, scalded areas appearing any place on the fruit exposed to direct sunlight are obvious symptoms of sunscald. Affected areas become sunken or wrinkled and creamy white as fruit ages. These areas dry out rapidly in hot weather and become paper thin. Secondary infection by fungi and bacteria may give the affected area a black, gray, or green moldy appearance.

The following cultural practices will help control sunscald:

  1. Grow pepper varieties with adequate foliage cover.
  2. Control pests that will tend to defoliate peppers.
  3. Proper plant spacing, including double row raised beds on black plastic, helps increase foliage cover protection.
  4. Do not allow plants to experience nutrient/moisture stress.

Poor pepper color is often correlated with overly dense pepper canopies. Proper pepper spacing should allow sufficient light to penetrate the canopy and ensure good fruit coloration.

*Dr. Vavrina is Assistant Professor, Vegetable Crops Department, Southwest Florida Reaearch and Education Center, Immokalee, Florida.

LIME AND FERTILIZER MANAGEMENT

Darbie M. Granberry, Extension Horticulturist-Vegetable Crops

Lime and fertilizer management deals with the application of optimal amounts of lime and fertilizer (or nutrient containing materials) at the most appropriate time(s) and by the most effective application method. Indirectly, fertilizer management is also concerned with cultural methods, tillage practices, and cropping sequences which maximize usefulness (efficiency) of both native soil fertility and applied plant nutrients.

Starter Fertilizer Solution

Fertilizer materials which are dissolved in water and applied to the soil around plant roots are called starter solutions. They promote rapid root development and early plant growth. Starter solutions for pepper should contain a high rate of phosphorus (approximate ratio of 1 Nitrogen: 3 Phosphorus: O Potassium is common) and should be mixed and applied according to the manufacturer's directions. Most starter solutions consist of three pounds of a formulated material (such as 10-34-0 which weighs approximtely 11 lbs./gallon) mixed in 50 gallons of water. Approximately one-half pint of the starter solution is normally applied per plant. In addition to supplying phosphorus which may be inadequately available (especially in cold soils in the early spring), the starter solution supplies water and firms the soil around roots. This helps eliminate air pockets which can cause root drying and subsequent plant or root damage. However, starter solution is no substitute for adequate rainfall or irrigation after transplanting.

Be certain to mix and apply starter fertilizer according to the manufacturer's recommendations. If the starter solution is too highly concentrated (mixed too strong), it can kill plant roots and result in dead or stunted plants. When mixing and applying from a large tank, mix a fresh solution only after the tank becomes empty. This helps to prevent the gradual increase in concentration that will occur if a portion of the previous mix is used for a portion of the water component in subsequent batches.

Fertilizer Management

It is impossible to recommend a specific fertilizer management program that has universal application for all pepper fields. In addition to crop nutrient requirements and general soil types, fertilizer recommendations should take into consideration soil pH, residual nutrients, and inherent soil fertility. Therefore, fertilizer recommendations based on soil analyses have the greatest potential for providing peppers with adequate but not excessive fertility. The application of needed amounts (only) results in optimum growth and yield without wasting fertilizer, encouraging luxury consumption of plant nutrients, or causing fertilizer burn.

Recommendations based on soil tests should result in the most effective lime and fertilizer management program possible. However, this can occur only if valid soil sampling procedures are used to collect the samples submitted for analyses. To be beneficial a soil sample must reliably represent the field or "management unit" from which it is taken. Soil samples that are improperly collected, compiled, or labeled are of dubious benefit and may actually be detrimental. If there are questions about soil sampling, please contact your local county Extension office for information.

Soil ph

Soil pH ranges are essential considerations for any fertilizer management program. The soil pH strongly influences plant growth, the availability of nutrients, and the activities of micro-organisms in the soil. It is important to keep soil pH in the proper range for production of the best yields of high quality peppers. Soil tests results indicate soil pH levels and also recommend any needed amounts of lime required to raise the pH to the desired range.

The best pH range for pepper production is 6.0 to 6.5. Coastal Plain soils which predominate in south Georgia become strongly acid (pH 5 or less) with time if lime is not applied. A soil test is essential for determining how much lime should be applied.

Calcium has limited mobility in soil; therefore, lime should be broadcasted and thoroughly incorporated to a depth of six to eight inches to neutralize the soil acidity in the root zone. To allow adequate time for neutralization of soil acidity (raising the pH) lime should be applied and thoroughly incorporated two to three months before seeding or transplanting. However, if application can not be made this early, liming will still be very beneficial if applied and incorporated at least one month prior to seeding or transplanting.

Two liming materials commonly available in Georgia are calcitic and dolomitic limestone. In addition to calcium, dolomitic limestone also contains six to 12 percent magnesium. Since Coastal Plain soils routinely become deficient in magnesium, dolomitic limestone is usually the preferred liming material.

Phosphorus and Potassium Recommendations

The following chart indicates the pounds of fertilizer nutrients recommended for varying soil fertility levels according to University of Georgia soil test ratings of residual phosphorus (P2O5) and potassium (K2O).

Fertilizer Recommendations

Phosphorus Ratings Low Medium High

Very high

Recommended P 120 80 40 0
Potassium Ratings Low Medium High Very high
Recommended K 120 90 60 30
P - Represents pounds of P2O5 recommended per acre; K - Represents pounds of K2O recommended per acre
NOTE: If soil testing is done by a lab other than the University of Georgia Soils Testing Laboratory, the levels recommended above may not apply.

All the recommended phosphorus should be applied during or near transplanting. Approximately one-half pint of a starter solution consisting of three pounds of 10-34-0 (or similar material) mixed in 50 gallons of water should be applied to each transplant. Around 100 to 150 pounds per acre of a pop-up fertilizer promotes earlier growth, particularly in cool/cold soils. A good pop-up fertilizer is similar to or equal to 10-34-0. It should be relatively high in phosporus and low in potassium. For early growth stimulation, pop-up fertilizer should be banded two to three inches to the side of the plants and two to three inches below the roots.

One-third to one-half of the potassium should either (1) be applied in two bands, each located two to three inches to the side and two to three inches below the level of plant roots or (2) be incorporated into the bed prior to transplanting. Research shows that broadcasting over the entire field is usually less effective than banding. An acceptable alternative to field broadcasting is the "modified broadcast" method where the preplant fertilizer containing nitrogen, potassium, and any recommended micronutrients are broadcast in the bed area only. For example, on a 72 inches wide bed a swath (60 inches to 72 inches wide) of fertilizer is uniformly applied centered over the bed. Incorporation by roto-tilling will help reduce water and wind movement of the fertilizer and will also place some fertilizer in the root zone. The remainder of the recommended potassium should be applied in one to three applications as needed. It can be banded in an area on both sides of the row just ahead of the developing root tips. The maximum number of applications is usually more effective on sandy soils.

Nitrogen Recommendations

Typical Coastal Plain soils require a total of 120 to 180 pounds of nitrogen (N) per acre. Extremely sandy soils may need additional N or an increased number of applications. Piedmont, Mountain, and Limestone Valley soils usually require only 50 to 80 pounds of N per acre for pepper production.

For each specific season, N rates actually needed will vary depending on rainfall, soil type, soil temperature, irrigation, plant population, duration of the harvest season, and method and timing of applications.

For typical Coastal Plains soils, one-fourth to one-third of the recommended nitrogen should either (1) be applied in two bands, each located two to three inches to the side and two to three inches below the level of plant roots or (2) be incorporated in the bed prior to transplanting. Research shows that broadcasting over the entire field is usually less effective than banding.

An acceptable alternative to field broadcasting is the "modified broadcast" method (see Phosphorus and Potassium Recommendations above). Incorporation by roto-tilling will help reduce water and wind movement of the fertilizer and will also place some fertilizer in the root zone. Apply the remaining recommended N in one to three applications (possibly four to five applications with extended harvest period in very sandy soil) as needed. It can be banded in an area on both sides of the row just ahead of the developing root tips. For heavier Piedmont, Mountain, and Limestone Valley soils, one to two applications are usually sufficient.

Approximately 50 percent of the total applied N should be in the nitrate form. High rates of ammoniacal nitrogen may interfere with calcium nutrition and result in an increased incidence of blossom-end rot (BER). Side dressing with calcium nitrate as the nitrogen source often significantly reduces the severity of BER.

Magnesium, Sulfur, Zinc and Boron Recommendations

If the soil test indicates magnesium is low and if lime is recommended, apply dolomitic limestone. If magnesium is low and lime is not recommended, apply 25 pounds of elemental magnesium per acre. Apply a minimum of 10 pounds of sulfur per acre, one pound of actual boron per acre, and if soil test indicates zinc is low, apply five pounds of actual zinc per acre.

Foliar Application of Fertilizer

The fact that plants can absorb a number of fertilizer elements through their leaves has been known for some time. However, leaves of many vegetable plants are not especially well adapted for absorbing nutrients because of a waxy cuticle. In some instances, plants that seem to benefit from foliar uptake are actually benefiting from nutrient spray which reaches the soil and is taken up by roots.

The effectiveness of applying macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to plant leaves is questionable. It is virtually impossible for pepper plants to absorb enough N, P, or K through the leaves to fulfill their nutritional requirements; furthermore, it is unlikely that they could absorb sufficient amounts of macronutrients to correct major deficiencies. Although nitrogen may be absorbed within 24 hours after application, up to four days are required for potassium uptake and seven to 15 days are required for phosphorus to be absorbed from foliar application.

The crucial question is whether or not foliar N, P, or K actually increases yield or enhances quality. Although some growers feel that foliar fertilizer should be used to supplement a soil applied fertilizer program, research findings do not support this practice. If proper fertilizer management of soil applied nutrients is used, then additional supplementation by foliar fertilization is not usually required.

Foliar nutrients are often expected to cure a variety of plant problems, many of which may be unrelated to nutrition. They are: reducing stress induced blossom drop, aiding in healing frost or hail damaged plants, increasing plant resistance to various stresses and pests, etc. The point is, nutrients are effective as long as they are supplying a nutritional need; however, neither soil-applied nor foliar-applied nutrients are capable of performing so-called "miracles."

Quite often after frost or hail occurs pepper growers apply foliar nutrients to give the plants an "extra shot" to promote rapid recovery. However, if a proper fertilizer program is being used before foliage damage, the pepper plants don't need additional fertilizer. What they do need is time and the proper environment for the normal recovery processes to occur. In addition, the likelihood of significant nutritional benefits from a foliar application of fertilizer to plants that have lost most of their leaves (or have a large proportion of their leaves severely damaged) is questionable.

Foliar application of sulfur, magnesium, calcium and micronutrients may help alleviate deficiencies. However, they should be applied only if there is a real need for them and only in quantities recommended for foliar application. Application of excessive amounts can cause fertilizer burn and/or toxicity problems.

Foliar applications of calcium nitrate or calcium chloride (one to three weekly applications beginning at first bloom or at first sign of BER) reduces the incidence of blossom-end rot (BER) in many instances. The recommended rate is three to four pounds in 100 gallons of water per acre.

Two to three foliar applications of water soluble boron (approximately one to two ounces by weight of actual boron per application) at weekly intervals coinciding with flowering has in some instances enhanced fruit set. A commercial formulation that contains both boron and calcium (two to three ounces by weight of calcium per application to decrease the incidence of BER) may be applied. Follow manufacturer's directions when applying any commercial calcium/boron formulations.

SPRAYERS

Paul E. Sumner, Extension Engineer

The equipment used for applying insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and foliar fertilizers can be clasified as sprayers. Basically, there are two types of sprayers -- boom and air blast. Boom spayers are most often recommended by pepper growers. Boom sprayers with the aid of drop nozzles provide better coverage of the plant canopy than air blast sprayers. Boom sprayers get their name from the arrangement of the conduit that carries the spray liquid to the nozzles. Booms or long arms on the sprayer extend across a given width to cover a particular swath as the sprayer passes over the field. Each component is important for efficient and effective application.

Most materials applied by a sprayer are a mix-ture or suspension. Uniform application demands a uniform tank mix. Most boom sprayers have a tank agitator to maintain uniform mixture. The agitation (mixing) may be produced by jet agitators, volume boosters (sometimes referred to as hydraulic agitators) and mechanical agitators. These can be purchased separately and put on sprayers. Make sure an agitator is on every sprayer. Some growers make a mistake of not operating the agitator when moving from field to field or when stopping for a few minutes. Always agitate continously when using pesticides that tend to settle out.

Pumps

Three factors to consider in selecting the proper pump for a sprayer are:

1. Capacity - The pump should be of proper capacity or size to supply boom output and to provide for agitation. The boom output, depending upon the number and size of nozzles, plus 20-30 percent for pump wear is recommended. Capacities of pumps are given in gallons per minute or per hour.

2. Pressure - The pump must produce the desired operating pressure for the spraying job to be done. Pressures are indicated as pounds per square inch (psi).

3. Resistance to corrosion and wear - The pump must be able to handle the chemical spray materials without excessive corrosion or wear. Use care in selecting a pump if wettable powders are to be used. These materials will enhance pump wear.

Table 2 lists the various pumps and their advantages and disavdantages. Before selecting a pump, factors such as cost, service, operating speeds, flowrate, pressure and wear should be considered. For spraying peppers a diaphragm pump is recommended because of serviceability and pressures required.

Nozzles

Nozzle tips are the most neglected and abused part of the sprayer. Since clogging can occur when spraying, clean and test the nozzle tips and strainers before each application. When applying chemicals be sure to maintain proper ground speed, operating pressure, spray height, etc. This will ensure adequate placement of the recommended amounts of pesticides to the plant canopy.

Rapid nozzle wear is a definite problem in spraying. Nozzles are made of different types of materials. To reduce the rate of wear, ceramic or stainless steel nozzles should be used.

Use a flat fan type nozzle to apply broadcast herbicides. Flat fan nozzles produce an elliptical pattern, where the edges are light and heavy in the center. These should be spaced on the boom for 30 - 40 percent overlap. When it becomes necessary to band apply herbicides, use an even fan or flood nozzle. These nozzles produce a uniform pattern across the area sprayed. The fan nozzles should be operated at 20-40 psi. Flood nozzles are designed to operate at lower pressures of 5 - 15 psi. The capacity of both type nozzles should be 15-20 gallons per acre (gpa).

When applying insecticides and fungicides, use solid or hollow cone type nozzles. The two patterns that are developed by solid or hollow cone nozzles can be produced by different tip configurations. One type tip, disc-n-core, consists of two parts. One being a core (swirl plate) where the fluid enters and is forced through tangential openings. Then a disc-type hardened stainless steel orfice (opening) is added. Another type tip that produces the same patterns is of one piece construction (nozzle body). Liquid is passed through a precision distributor with diagonal slots which produce swirl in a converging chamber. The resulting pattern of both tip configurations is either solid or hollow cone.

Nozzle Arrangements

When applying insecticides and fungicides, it is necessary to completely cover both sides of all pepper leaves with spray material. When pepper plants are small (up to 12 inches) one or two nozzles over the top is sufficient. Then, as the plant starts to bush or branch, add drop nozzles. This will guarantee that spray material is directed from all directions into the pepper canopy. As the plant increases in height, add another nozzle for every eight to 10 inches of growth. In all spray configurations, the nozzle tips should be approximately six - 10 inches from the foliage. Properly selected nozzles should be able to apply 25-125 gallons per acre operating at 60-200 psi. Actual capacity and pressure required will vary depending on the crop's stage of development. In most cases, more than one size nozzle will be needed to carry out a season spray program. Generally, ground speed should be between 2 -4 miles per hour.

Calibrate pepper sprayers often. Calibration should be conducted every eight to 10 hours of operation to ensure proper pesticide application. A good calibration procedure to follow is Calibration Method for Hydraulic Boom and Band Sprayers and Other Liquid Applicators,University of Georgia Extension Circular 683. This circular is available through local county Extension offices.

Table 2. Summary of the Various Types of Pumps Used for Spraying

Characteristic Diaphragm Gear Roller Impeller Centrifugal
Adaptability: Handle corrosive or abrasive materials. Will handle all chemicals that will not attack diaphragm. Oil exclusion, non-abrasive materials. Cannot be used with wettable powders. Works best with oil emulsions and non-abrasive material. Recommended not using copper compounds. Rubber rollers for slurries & wettable powders. Will handle coarse & abrasive materials.
Durability Maintains pressure with wear. Limited life under adverse conditions. Pressure drops with wear. Pressure drops with wear.
Serviceability Readily disassembled for service. Parts not usually replaced. Pump readily replaced. Special technique in servicing. Worn parts can be replaced. Certain models can be serviced.
Construction (critical parts) Rubber or synthetic diaphragm. Bronze gears, stainless steel shaft. Rollers -- nylon or rubber. Case-nickle, cast iron. Case: Cast iron or plastic. Impellers: Cast iron, bronze and plastic.
Pressure Range 0-700 psi 0-100 psi 0-150 psi 0-50 psi
RPM (Operating range) 500-800 500-1800 300-1000 1200-3500
Gallons per minute 3-10 0-65 5-50 0-100
Required horsepower 3-5 HP 1/16-4 HP 1/2-5 HP 1/4-3 HP
Displacement Positive Semi-positive Semi-positive Non-positive
Direction of rotation Either Either Clockwise Clockwise
Bearings, Type Ball Bronze Bronze or ball Ball
Bearings, Lubrication Grease Grease Sealed or grease Sealed or grease
Type of Drive PTO PTO, belt or chain PTO, belt or chain PTO, belt or chain


DISEASES

Johnny Dan Gay, Extension Plant Pathologist

Peppers are attacked by several diseases that reduce yield and quality of fruit every year. The control or prevention of these diseases is very important in pepper production.

Bacterial Diseases

Bacterial leafspot is the most serious disease affecting peppers in Georgia. The bacterium Xanthomonas vesicatoria causes spots on both foliage and fruit. On young leaves the spots are yellowish-green and usually slightly raised on the lower surface. On older leaves the spots are dark, water-soaked, but not noticeably raised. Enlarged spots have dead, straw colored centers with dark margins. Most of the leaves on severely infected plants turn yellow and drop. In addition, the bacterium attacks the fruit, causing small blister-like, irregular spots which may be more than one-fourth inch in diameter. These spots turn brown and develop a warty appearance.

The bacterium is seed-borne and can also overwinter on diseased plant refuse in the soil. Infected seed are a main source of initial infection. Infected seedlings carry the disease to the field where it spreads rapidly during wet weather.

All pepper seed planted for transplants, or direct seeded field grown peppers should be tested by the Georgia Department of Agriculture for the presence of pathogenic fungi and bacteria. If tested and approved, they may be grown under the certification program. Only certified seed and transplants should be used planted.

Virus Diseases

The viruses which cause mosaic in peppers produce a distinct mottling and distortion of the leaves. Leaves are somewhat wrinkled and often pale green in color. Affected plants take on a bushy shape. Resulting fruit from infected plants are usually malformed. There are at least four viruses responsible for pepper mosaic: tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), tobacco etch virus (TEV), cucumber mosaic virus (CMV), and potato virus Y (PVY).

Tobacco mosaic virus is a mechanically transmitted virus which means the virus can be spread by touching an infected plant immediately before touching a healthy one. Also, tobacco mosaic virus may be transmitted by handling tobacco products before touching pepper plants. The other viruses are insect transmitted, primarily by aphids.

Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) has been identified in peppers. The virus is acquired by immature thrips and is transmitted only by the adult. Infection to date has been more serious in early planted peppers.

Virus diseases of pepper often cause significant economic losses. The incidence and severity of virus infections may be lessened by using resistant varieties, by eliminating weed hosts, by destroying affected fields immediately after the final harvest, and by controlling the insects which transmit viruses.

Fungus Diseases

Cercospora leafspot is caused by Cercospora capsici. The large oval or somewhat oblong spots with light gray centers on the leaves, stalks and leaf stems make this disease easy to recognize. The disease may be seed-borne, and infection may be traced to infected seedlings grown from contaminated seed. The disease can also be carried over on crop debris. In the field the fungus spores are spread mainly by wind. Unless controlled, it causes severe defoliation. The disease is easily controlled with chemical sprays. The same spray program used for bacterial leafspot will control Cercospora leafspot.

Anthracnose, caused by the fungus Gloesporium piperatum is one of the two common rots found on pepper fruit. Diseased areas develop a dark round sunken spot which often reaches an inch in diameter. Dark, raised specks are produced in the spots which contain the spores. When the weather is very moist, salmon-colored masses of spores cover the fruiting bodies. These spores are washed or splashed by rain to other pepper fruit, causing new infections. Anthracnose may be introduced by infected transplants, however, the disease has been found to overwinter in pepper growing areas. The disease can be controlled under normal weather conditions with a reasonable spray program. Severe losses occur during rainy weather if a disease prevention program is not initiated early in the season.

Ripe Rot

Ripe rot is caused by Vermicularia capsici and is more serious on pimento peppers than other types. Although infection can occur anytime after petal fall, there is no sign of it until the fruit turns red, hence the name "ripe rot." As the fruit ripens, small yellowish spots appear. However, unless the weather is moist, they usually develop no further until the fruits are harvested. These spots may become large, soft and sunken under moist conditions that develop in bags, or in piles of fruit on the ground or in the truck. For chemical control recommendations please refer to the current Georgia Pest Control Handbook. Ripe rot during packing, storage, and shipping can be minimized by proper harvesting and handling.

Stem Rot

Stem rot is caused by Erwinia sp., a common bacterium that affects many crops under certain weather conditions. This disease can be devastating when peppers are harvested in extremely hot weather and submerged in a common wash tank. The disease may not be visible until the peppers are in transit.

Sanitation is the best defense against stem rot. Harvesting peppers after the plants have dried and restricting harvesting to the cooler hours of the day will reduce the spread of the bacterium. Wash water should be changed frequently and the chlorine level should be maintained in the range of 50 ppm. Drying and cooling the peppers immediately also aid in the reduction of this disease.

Southern Blight

Southern stem blight is caused by the fungus Sclerotium rolfsii and is a common destructive disease of peppers in Georgia. Since most peppers are rotated with peanuts, soybeans and other susceptible crops, the disease has become a major problem. The fungus attacks the stem of the plants near or at the soil line and forms a white mold on the stem base. Later in the season, small, round brown bodies appear in the mold. Infected plants wilt and slowly die. The severity of this disease can be lessened by following good cultural practices: rotation, litter destruction and deep turning with a moldboard plow are the best cultural defenses against this disease. They should be supplemented with chemical prevention recommendations listed in the Georgia Pest Control Handbook.

Nematodes

Three species of Root-knot nematodes (M. incognita, M. hapla and M. arenaria) cause serious economic damage to peppers. These tiny eel-like worms live in the soil and feed on the roots of peppers. Not only do they cause physical damage that interferes with the uptake of water and nutrients, but they allow the establishment of other diseases. Nematode infected plants are generally stunted with pale green to light yellow foliage. Symptoms may be temporarily masked by supplying additional fertilizer and water. Soils infested with root-knot nematodes should be avoided or treated with a chemical before peppers are planted. See the current Georgia Pest Control Handbook for nematode control recommendations.

INSECT MANAGEMENT

David B. Adams, Extension Entomologist

Insect pests may damage pepper throughout the growing period. Although some are only occasional pests, others may be common pests in pepper fields every season. The severity of insect damage to peppers is largely due to abundance of the pests which is related to environmental conditions. With many insects, there is no clearly defined method of predicting outbreaks. However, a knowledge of their habits, and effective control measures will enable growers to avoid or at least reduce the damage they suffer. Pepper is well suited for insect pest management. Even though a variety of insects may attack pepper, early detection of infestations and subsequent scouting two to three times per week is the most cost-effective management strategy.

Use the Georgia Pest Control Handbook when selecting the correct insecticide for control of specific insect pests described in the following text.

Seedling Pests

Cutworms

Newly set pepper plants may be cut down just above the soil surface by cutworms. Cutworm damage is particularly abundant in fields where grass sod has previously grown. The majority of cutworms pass the winter in the soil as full-grown larvae.

Damage is done when larvae feed at night on pepper seedlings. Greatest damage is often found in wet areas of the fields. Cutworms may also feed on foliage and pods of mature plants.

Use preventive insecticide treatments on fields with a history of cutworms or on pepper fields following grass sod. Where preventive treatments are deemed unnecessary, use directed sprays for cutworm control when 5 percent of the seedlings have been damaged or destroyed and cutworms are still present. All directed or foliar sprays used for cutworm control should be applied late in the day when cutworms are active.

Thrips

Thrips may be present in pepper fields throughout the growing season. Plant injury is caused by both nymphs and adults rasping the leaves and floral tissues and then sucking the exuding sap. This causes reddish, gray or silvery speckled areas on the leaves. With severe infestations these areas can interfere with photosynthesis and result in retarded growth. Heavy infestations during the bloom stage may cause damage to developing pods. Occasionally thrips aggregate on pods well hidden from sprays. This may result in russeting damage from continual feeding during pod development. Applications of insecticides should be made when 20 percent of plants show signs of thrips damage, or when 10 or more thrips per bloom are found. Thrips are very small, so close observation is necessary. An effective in-field survey method is to place several blooms in a vial of alcohol and count the thrips as they die and settle to the bottom.

Foliage Feeders

Aphids

Aphids or plant lice are small, soft-bodied insects that may feed on pepper plants from time of planting until last harvest. The most noticeable direct injury is the devitalizing of blossom clusters so that blossoms fall and no peppers set. Aphids cluster in shaded places on the leaves, stems and blossoms. Winged migrants move from field to field spreading virus diseases.

Establishment of aphid colonies on pepper is often reduced by wet weather, but during cool, dry weather in the early spring, large numbers of aphids may develop quickly. Feeding by these pests causes the leaves to be crinkled and malformed.

Aphid populations can be assessed by examining terminals and the undersides of leaves. Treatments for aphids in early spring plantings may be postponed until distinct colonies of immature aphids are found. Initiate treatments for aphids in late summer plantings when wingedadults are found on young plants.

Colorado Potato Beetles

Colorado potato beetles may occur in damaging numbers in pepper fields. They lay orange-yellow eggs in groups of a dozen or more on the undersides of leaves; these eggs are often mistaken for lady beetle eggs. Injury to peppers is due to actual consumption of foliage and stems by the chewing adults and larvae. Young plants may be completely defoliated.

In pepper-growing areas where spraying for insect control is a regular practice, insecticides have so reduced the population that it is no longer a serious problem. However, in some areas the control of this insect still demands attention. Colorado potato beetles occur in large numbers and are generally uniformly distributed over an area. Because of their short life cycle and high reproductive capacity, treatments are needed as soon as beetle eggs or larvae are found.

Flea Beetles

The name flea beetle applies to a variety of small beetles, with enlarged hind legs, which jump vigorously when disturbed. Their injury consists of small, rounded or irregular holes eaten through or into the leaf. The most common flea beetle on peppers (potato flea beetle) is about 1/16 inch long and nearly a uniform black in color.

Flea beetles may attack peppers at any time during the growing season but are often most numerous early in the season. Insecticides for control of flea beetles should be applied when flea beetles become numerous and defoliation is greater than 10 percent.

Hornworms

Hornworms are large, green, white-barred worms that may reach a length of three inches. The most distinguishing characteristic about hornworms is the slender horn projecting from the rear of the body. Hornworms eat only the foliage of pepper plants and may cause enough defoliation to allow sun scald of pods. The adult moths do no injury; but deposit spherical translucent eggs, singly on the undersides of leaves.

Treatments for hornworm control should be applied when one larva is found on 4 percent of the plants examined.

Leafminers

Leafminer infestations are most often first detected as the slender, white, winding trails caused by the larvae feeding through the interior of leaves. The leaves are greatly weakened and the mines may serve as points where decay and disease may begin. With severe infestations, heavy leaf loss may lead to sun scald of fruits. Adult leafminers are tiny, shiny, black flies with yellow markings. Adult female flies lay eggs within the leaves and white to pale yellow larvae with black mouthparts mine the leaves for about five to seven days.

Many natural enemies attack this pest and can keep leafminer populations under control. Leafminers rarely pose a serious threat to pepper production except in fields where their natural enemies are reduced by early insecticide applications. Begin treatments for leafminer control when populations reach an average of five mines/trifoliate (a trifoliate is the three leaflets at the terminal end of the leaf). This threshold level should be used only when there are at least 25 percent live larvae in the mines.

Spider Mites

Leaves of pepper plants infested with spider mites are lightly stipled with pale blotches. In heavy infestations the entire leaf appears light in color, dries up, often turning reddish-brown in blotches or around the edge. The minute 8-legged mites appear as tiny, reddish, greenish, or yellow moving dots on the undersides of leaves.

Greatest damage to peppers occurs during dry, hot weather which is favorable for development of extremely large mite populations. To check for spider mites, observe plant foliage for characteristic damage. Look on the undersides of leaves for mites. Pay close attention to field borders and weedy areas. Treatments for mite control should be applied when mites become numerous and their damage appears excessive.

Pod Feeders

European Corn Borers

European corn borer is one of the most serious and difficult to control insect pest of pepper. Fortunately spring plantings are less subject to infestations than late plantings of bell pepper. Pimento pepper has a long growing season and is more subject to heavy infestations. Females lay eggs in groups of 15 to 35 on the undersides of pepper leaves. The overlapping scale-like eggs hatch in five to seven days. Within two to 12 hours after hatching, the young larvae crawl to the calyx of pepper pods. Once under the calyx, they are protected from insecticides and natural enemies.

Young larvae bore through the walls of pepper pods and later feed on the seed core. This feeding causes small fruits to drop prematurely and larger fruits to eventually rot. When rotting begins, larvae usually leave the fruits to infest others. Infested fruits are easily overlooked but can be detected by close examination of the calyx for signs of feeding, entry holes and frass (fecal debris). Larvae may, at times, bore into the stems and branches of pepper plants. Entrance holes are usually found at axils. As the borers tunnel within the stems and branches, fruit loss may result from limb breakage.

The number of European corn borer generations per year varies with latitude. In north Georgia there may be as few as two generations whereas in south Georgia five to six generations may occur. The severity of damage is also variable but heaviest during dry years. Infestations of European corn borer can be detected by examining plants for presence of egg masses on the undersides of leaves.

Insecticide treatments for control of European corn borers should be timed such that larvae are controlled before entering the fruits and stems. Timing is the key to successful control. Treatments made after larvae have entered fruits and stems are of little value, so initiate sprays at the first sign of egg masses.

Pepper Maggot

The pepper maggot is the larval stage of a small fly. The natural food of the insect is the horsenettle, but serious damage may occur on pepper. Heavy infestations of pepper maggots occur in fields when adult flies are attracted to rotting fruit caused by damage from other pests. They deposit eggs beneath the skin of peppers, and all larval development is completed inside.

For control of pepper maggots, treatments should begin when flies are first seen in the field. Repeat applications should be made on a three to four day interval.

Pepper Weevil

The pepper weevil resembles the cotton boll weevil in general appearance. The pepper weevil is about half as long as the boll weevil. The adult pepper weevil averages about 1/8 inch in length. The mature larva or grub is legless, resembling a white grub, except in size.

The adult female weevil deposits eggs either in buds before the blossom opens or in the fruit. Females may lay 100 to 300 eggs over a one to two month period. The egg hatches into a tiny grub in just a few days. The grub usually tunnels its way into the seed mass in the center of the pod. There are several generations per season. The weevils have not been found to overwinter in commercial pepper fields of Georgia but are brought in on transplants from other areas.

The most important damage is the destruction of blossom buds and immature pods. The crop may be entirely lost if the infestation is severe and early. Infested pods turn yellow (or prematurely red in the case of pimiento peppers) and fall from the plant. Often they are malformed. In many cases the first sign of infestation is a few fallen pods, but by this time serious damage may be already done and within the next 10 days a large part of the crop may fall.

The feeding of grubs within the pods causes the seeds and cores to turn black and often an entire core becomes a mass of decayed tissue and frass. Pods that appear to be sound may show this condition when opened. Feeding punctures in the pods do not materially damage peppers intended for drying, but they appear as dark specks at the bottom of depressed areas and lower the quality of fruit used green or for canning. In the latter case, the punctures appear as black spots when the peppers are cooked. Damage to blossom buds is similar to that done to pods, the larvae feed in the bud and cause it to fall. Feeding punctures in the buds cause them to drop.

Purchase only transplants certified to be weevil free. Plants from Florida should be inspected closely. Growers should not accept any plants with fruiting structures.

During the growing season, cut open and examine fallen blossom buds and small fruits for evidence of infestation. Begin treatments for pepper weevils when any fruit are found infested with adult or immature weevils.

Tomato Fruitworm (corn earworm)

Among the most serious pests of peppers is the tomato fruitworm or corn earworm. The larvae vary greatly in color from a light green to brown or nearly black and are lighter on the underparts. They are marked with alternating light and dark stripes running lengthwise on the body.

Eggs are laid singly on the terminals of pepper plants. The eggs hatch in three to five days and the larvae feed first on terminal foliage and later eat into the pods. The larva are rather restless and shift from one pod to another so that a single caterpillar may spoil many pods without eating the equivalent of a single one. The larvae may bore completely inside a fruit but more damage is caused by external feeding.

Several generations of tomato fruitworms may develop each year. Treatments for tomato fruitworm control should be applied when one percent of fruits are infested with larvae or eggs are easily found.

Beet Armyworms

Beet armyworms may feed on both the foliage and pods of pepper plants. Eggs are laid in masses on the undersides of foliage. After feeding on foliage for a few days, some larvae may migrate to the pods. They may tunnel into the pod under the calyx or eat directly through the pod wall. Begin treatments at the first sign of egg masses.

Tarnished Plant Bugs

Tarnished plant bugs are sucking bugs that primarily attack the young flower buds causing them to abort. Young flower buds turn yellow to black after tarnished plant bug feeding. Infestations may be heavy in spring plantings and fruit set can be very poor if the bugs are not controlled.

Both nymphs and adults feed on pepper. The nymphs are difficult to find unless high numbers are present. Scouting for the adults is simple; treat if one adult per six plants is found.

WEED CONTROL

Fitzroy D. Bullock, Extension Agronomist - Weed Science

Weed control is one of the most serious concerns to commercial pepper growers. It is a serious problem in both transplant seed beds and in fields. Design a cost-effective weed control program before establishing a plant bed or planting transplants to the field.

Factors Affecting Weed Control

Consider several factors before venturing into pepper production. If peppers are grown in seedbeds for transplants, weed control is different from that of peppers grown in the field. For the production of transplants from seedbeds, select a sterilized soil mixture or use a land area that does not have a history of troublesome weeds or weeds that will be resistant to chemical control methods.

Select the best land possible. This land should not have a history of troublesome weeds, especially weeds that can be expected to germinate in mid to late growing season. Some of these weeds include: sicklepod, yellow and purple nutsedge, Florida beggarweed, jimson weed, cocklebur and morningglories. Also, avoid land with an infestation of perennial weeds such as common bermudagrass and johnsongrass. Weed identification is important since the total weed control strategy will depend upon weed species and the degree of weed infestation. A good approach is to know the weed history of the field and if possible draw a weed map showing areas with the infestation of different weed species. By having a weed map, control strategies can be planned more effectively.

Crop rotation is also an important practice that helps maintain land free from troublesome weeds. However, during the process of rotation, avoid land treated with herbicides to which peppers may be sensitive. Many of the herbicides used for weed control in agronomic crops (peanuts, soybeans, corn, cotton, grain sorghum) have not been thoroughly tested for pepper sensitivity. The residual soil life, particularly of the newer compounds, has not been fully established. It is imperative that a record of the herbicides used on fields to be planted to peppers be kept and the herbicide labels checked for crop rotation guidelines. Table 3 lists herbicides with the potential to cause severe injury or stand loss in pepper if sufficient rotation time is not allowed.

Table 3. Herbicides Causing Injury or Stand Reduction due to Carry-Over
Herbicide Waiting Period *
Atrazine one year
Lexone/Sencor six months
Bladex one year
Milogard one year
Princep one year
Surflan six months **
Cotoran/Lanex two years
Karmex/Direx one year to 18 months
Lorox/Linex six months
Classic one year (possibly more)
Scepter one year (possibly more)


* Time after application required to prevent injury to pepper.
** Buildup of surflan with continuous yearly use may result in injury even after a six-month waiting period.

Methods of Weed Control

Seedbed

The first step in avoiding weed problems in pepper seedbeds is to select a weed-free soil mixture or a land area with no history of a severe weed problem. Then, two approaches may be used.

Fumigation: The seedbed is tightly covered with an airtight tarp or plastic. Inject a registered fumigant under the cover and leave the seedbed undisturbed for three days. Then remove the cover and allow the soil to aerate for seven days before planting pepper seeds. A properly applied fumigant penetrates the soil and kills most viable seeds. In general, registered fumigants are restricted use chemicals and must be handled carefully by a certified applicator. Apply all fumigants in full compliance with label recommendations and precautions.

Herbicides: Certain herbicides may be used (with or without fumigation) for weed control in seedbeds (See Circular 695-Chemical Weed Control in Vegetables). Contact herbicides may be used via the stale seedbed method. This method allows application of a contact non-residual herbicide prior to seeding or after seeding but before pepper emergence. Weeds germinate and die before crop emergence. Preemergence herbicides may be applied immediately after planting, but before crop and weeds emerge.

Field

Hand weeding is the safest and least damaging to the crop; however, only growers with small acreage and abundant labor can depend on this approach.

Mechanical: Mechanical control is effective during early growth. However, once plants begin to bear, mechanical cultivation is not practical. Tractor wheels and cultivators easily damage crops. Mechanical cultivation usually requires supplementary hand weeding for removing weeds in the rows.

Herbicides: Herbicide control is currently limited to materials recommended by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. (See Circular 695, Chemical Weed Control in Vegetables).

Stale Seedbed: Described above.

Fumigation: Fumigation for weed control is expensive and dangerous. It must be handled by trained personnel. The appropriate fumigation procedures are described above.

Plastic Mulch: Plastic mulch with trickle irrigation is a weed control method that is expanding rapidly. Black plastic is the most effective mulch because the color prevents light penetration needed for weed seed germination. The edges of the plastic mulch must be properly embedded in the soil to prevent wind disturbance. Please keep in mind, however, that plastic mulches are not totally effective for nutsedge control. Areas between mulched beds should be treated only with a preemergence or postemergence herbicide registered for pepper use, since the root system of the pepper plant has the capability of extending into the treated zone.

HARVESTING AND HANDLING

William C. Hurst, Extension Food Scientist

Field Maturity

Pepper harvesting time is usually determined by the fruit color required for marketing. Bell (sweet) peppers for the fresh market should be harvested immature while fruits are firm, shiny in appearance and have a fresh green calyx and stem. Irregular shape does not detract from edible quality, but reduces eye appeal which may lower market acceptability. Peppers having soft, pliable thin flesh and pale green in color (for certain varieties) are too immature for harvest. Fruit injuries which penetrate the fleshy wall increase susceptibility to decay and should be eliminated or minimized. Decay may appear as water-soaked, bleached or blackened areas that may or may not be noticeably sunken into the pepper wall.

As bell types mature on the plant, they tend to become sweeter and change from green to "chocolate" and then to red color. It is more difficult to find a market for sweet peppers at this stage of maturity, although some processors will accept these fruits for color enhancement in processed foods. Harvest crews should leave partially green or chocolate colored fruit on the plant until the next harvest when they will be fully red. Decayed fruit should be removed to prevent infection of other fruit on the plant. Many attempts have been made to successfully ripen harvested green peppers using ethylene. However, unlike the tomato, bell peppers cannot be ripened to a satisfactory red color if removed from the plant.

Pimento peppers are heart-shaped fruits which should be harvested at the red or ripened stage of maturity for processing. Pimento fruit will continue to ripen after they are picked. They will develop an orange-reddish color if left in a well ventilated area for several days. During dry weather ripe fruit can remain on the plant. In wet weather ripe pimento split badly if not harvested frequently. Pimentos are hand harvested, and transported in bulk by truck from receiving stations to canneries where they are peeled, cored and packed into glass jars for distribution.

Figure 1. Scoville Heat Units: Just how hot is hot? In 1912, W.L. Scoville, an Englishman, came up with a scale that used human taste-testers. The test has been refined, but Scoville Heat Units are still expressed using ranges. Concentrated oleoresins of capsicum have reached 6 million units. (Click on graphic for larger view.)

All peppers can be classified as having either sweet or hot (pungent) flesh. Bells and pimentos are sweet, while chile types are hot. Chile peppers are usually green when immature and turn red, yellow or orange at maturity, so harvest time depends on market preference. Pungency (hotness) is caused by an oily substance called capsaicin, located in yellow sacks or pustules on the inside wall of the pepper pod. As long as these oil glands are not broken, a hot pepper will remain mild. However, rough handling during harvest and packing can increase a chile pepper's hotness. Pungency of chile varieties ranges from mild (Anaheim) to very hot (dried Jalapeno). "Scoville Heat Units" (expressed as ppm capsaicin) are used to express degree of pungency (hotness).

Harvesting

Bell peppers constitute the major fresh market pepper product and are hand harvested and handled three ways in the field. They may be directly packed into wirebound crates (field packed) or placed into polyethylene buckets for dumping onto harvest aid belts or into bulk bins.

Small acreage growers commonly use field packing, while growers with up to 60 acres may use a harvest aid and the "mule train" system. Some workers walk through the field picking peppers while others ride on the harvest aid. Pickers dump peppers onto a moving belt which carries them to a hopper-type receiving pit. These peppers are conveyed up a roller belt where they are graded, washed, sized and packed by workers on the harvester before cartons are off-loaded onto flat-bed trucks.

Harvesting aids improve the speed and efficiency of picking pepper but require a sizeable investment by the grower. Large acreages require that hand harvested peppers be dumped into bulk bins (20-bushel) for transport to a centralized packingshed. Pimento peppers are hand harvested and dumped into receiving bins for cleaning and grading at receiving stations before being sent to the processor. Although fresh market chile peppers are still hand harvested, several new mechanical harvesters are commercially available to pick processing types

Good harvesting management is needed to pack high quality peppers. Field crews must be trained and supervised to avoid pepper damage. Pepper plants have brittle stems that break easily during harvest. Workers must use care during harvest to reduce plant damage. They must protect peppers from direct sunlight while holding them in the field. Sunscald develops quickly on exposed peppers in loaded bulk bins. Trucks loaded with these bins should be parked under shade if there is any delay (such as a noon meal break) in moving them to the packing shed. Field packed boxes of peppers should not be held on flat bed trailers in the heat after loading.

A study of the effect of delayed cooling on field packed peppers has shown that shelf life can be reduced by one-half if peppers are allowed to set in full sunlight for two hours after harvest.

Picking buckets should be cleaned and sanitized before each day's harvest to prevent accumulated disease organisms from infecting sound peppers. Rinse buckets with water to remove debris then wash them in a sanitizing solution consisting of 3.5 ounces of 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite (household bleach) mixed in 7.5 gallons of water.

Wet peppers should not be harvested because surface moisture increases field heat accumulation in the load and enhances disease development. Physical damage occurs during bulk bin loading as peppers drop onto hard wooden bottoms. Many split as they strike the surface, while others are bruised. It has been demonstrated that pepper loss during field loading can significantly be reduced by padding bin bottoms. Placement of insulated carpeting in the bins reduced splitting and bruising and resulted in a 40 percent decrease in loss. Used carpeting is available to most growers, and its installation would improve the quality and quantity of field harvested peppers.

Postharvest Handling

The importance of postharvest handling cannot be over emphasized since approximately two-thirds of the total cost of pepper production is invested in harvesting, cooling and packaging. Bulk bins of harvested peppers are brought in from the field to a packing shed, dumped into a holding pit and spray-washed or run beneath soft brushes to remove field debris. Fruit may or may not move through a waxer depending on market preference. Waxing reduces shrinkage during storage and transit and extends shelf life. Peppers proceed down a grading line where fruit showing sunscald, stem punctures, bruises, disease or damage from stem rubs, hail or insects is removed. Peppers are then mechanically sized and packaged according to federal or industry standards. In smaller operations, peppers are dipped into tanks of water or wiped with a soft cloth to remove dirt, sand, etc., from fruit surfaces. Packing lines use high pressure water nozzles. If peppers are washed, chlorine should be added to water at a rate of 100-150 ppm and all fruit must be air dried before packaging to reduce storage rots. A postharvest study has shown that chlorination prior to cold storage resulted in a 46 percent increase in marketable peppers after seven days.

Packing line operations can damage peppers. Bruising and hairline cracking occur as peppers are dumped and conveyed along grading, sizing and packing belts. Shoulder bruising is the major type of damage. This leads to white blisters which form underneath the delicate skin. Often this discoloration is not evident until peppers are packaged and stored. These weakened areas allow bacteria and fungi to enter the flesh and cause decay. Pinpointing and padding potential damage sites in a packing line will lessen physical damage and improve shelf life of the pack-out.

Grading and Packing

Federal grade standards for bell-type peppers include U. S. Fancy, U. S. No. 1 and U. S. No. 2. Most buyers will accept only the equivalent of U. S. No. 1 grade or higher. Tolerances for U. S. No. 1 grade state that peppers should have no more than 10 percent total defects (maturity, color, shape), including 5 percent serious damage (scarring, sunburn, insect damage), and 2 percent decay (soft rot) in any lot of peppers examined. Some buyers expect higher quality than these limits. Peppers must be graded to achieve uniform shape, color and size. Don't pack peppers showing red or chocolate color with fruit to be sold as green peppers.

Size is based on count per carton. Most buyers prefer large peppers (approximately 60 per carton) with a minimum of 2 inches in diameter and 2 inches in length. Pods should have four distinct lobes. Growers should check with their buyers to determine size preference. Chile and pimento-type peppers should be handled, graded and packed like bell types for fresh sale.

Since many types of shipping containers are used in marketing peppers, growers should check with their buyers to determine their preference. Peppers may be packed in wirebound crates, bushel baskets, and one and one-ninth bushel corrugated cartons. Containers must provide good ventilation with at least 5 percent of any container side being open so as not to restrict air movement through the container. Avoid packing in second-hand or used containers which are unacceptable to buyers. Shipping containers must not be under or over-filled since this will result in short weights and physical damage to the peppers on stacking. Use eye appealing, reinforced containers giving the name and address of the packer and having the size or weight of the product clearly marked on the package.

Cooling and Shipping

Peppers require fast cooling to prevent decay. While several methods could be used, "forced-air" cooling is recommended. Pepper cartons are placed in a specially designed refrigerated room and cold air is pulled rapidly through them using high pressure static fans. Once peppers are cooled to a storage temperature of 48 degrees to 50 degrees F, a solenoid switch turns off the fans and the room becomes a storage cooler. Forced-air cooling is more advantageous than room cooling because field heat is removed more rapidly from peppers permitting longer shelf life.

For small acreage growers, forced-air cooling can be accomplished by using a squirrel cage fan, piece of plywood and canvas cover or tarpaulin to remove heat from small lots of peppers. A comparison of these two methods for boxed peppers shows that forced-air cooling requires only one-fifth the cooling time of room cooling. At the peak of the season when shipping schedules are short, peppers must often be adequately cooled in a matter of hours before loading onto a transport truck. Speed of cooling is critical and will affect pepper shelf life. Postharvest studies show a significant improvement in pepper shelf life when forced-air cooling is used instead of room cooling.

Forced-air coolers are slightly more expensive to build than conventional room coolers because of the fans and extra refrigeration capacity needed. However, proper utilization of forced-air coolers significantly enhances pepper quality and shelf life. Buyers pay higher prices for thoroughly cooled peppers. Once pre-cooled, peppers must be held at 45-50 degrees F and 95 percent relative humidity for a two week shelf life. Pre-cooling peppers before loading into transit trailers is critical. Truck coolers are not designed to remove field heat from peppers. They have only enough refrigeration capacity to maintain temperature once peppers are cooled. Peppers loaded in a transit trailer at 90 degrees F will likely arrive at the market at 90 degrees F. Buyers will not accept hot pepper loads!

Peppers are subject to chilling injury when held at temperatures below 45 degrees F. Chilling causes browning of the calyx-stem end and will allow mold organisms to decay the calyx within four to five days. At 35 degrees F, peppers will develop surface pitting in a few days. Signs of chilling usually don't show up until peppers are moved to a higher temperature such as a display case in a retail market. Inspectors examine pepper loads for chilling disorders at terminal markets. Buyers won't accept chill- damaged peppers because they know it means reduced shelf life.

Peppers are very sensitive to ethylene, a ripening gas produced in excess by certain fruits and vegetables. Ethylene causes a bleaching of the green pigment, chlorophyll, in peppers and results in yellowish, chocolate and red colors. To prevent ethylene damage, don't store ripening tomatoes, cantaloupes, apples or peaches in the same room with peppers. Shipping "mixed loads" of peppers with ethylene producing commodities may cause quality problems. This damage can be minimized by ventilating the transit trailer before loading and placing the peppers at the back of the load where the air is coolest.

MARKETING

William O. Mizelle, Jr., Extension Economist

Marketing peppers or any product is more than selling. Marketing includes production, distribution and pricing. To be successful, marketing must be responsive to consumers' demands. Consumers demand quality, freshess, and "reasonable" prices.

Production

Sixteen states ship peppers some time during the year. With the exception of Florida, the U.S. production is primarily during the months of May through November (see Table 4). California, Florida and Texas are the leading pepper producing states during May. Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina join them during June. By July, 12 states are in production. Twelve states also ship during October. By November, only five states are in production. Georgia's primary competition is Florida, Texas and North Carolina in the spring and Florida and Texas in the fall.

Table 4: Average Bell Pepper Arrivals in 22 US Cities (1)
State May June July Aug Sep Oct Nov Season Annual
----------------------------------------million pounds-------------------------------------------
Calif 3.7 6.8 12.9 11.9 13.1 18.0 8.5 74.9 76.1
Fl 21.1 10.9 .7 1.5 8.9 43.1 98.4
GA .1 3.1 2.0 .3 .1 .2 .1 6.0 6.0
NC 2.2 7.6 .3 .1 10.2 10.2
Tx 1.9 4.4 .2 .1 1.4 3.6 7.7 19.3 23.9
5 States 26.7 27.4 3.5 12.6 14.7 23.4 25.2 153.5 214.7
Commercial (2)
Total 28.6 29.6 29.6 24.6 24.6 27.8 26.5 191.6 317.4
(1) Arrivals represents that portion of total production that is shipped to the markets which USDA reports.; (2) Commercial total includes peppers from all supply areas. Source: Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Arrivals, USDA-AMS.

Distribution

The location of the population and their tastes and preferences determine the demand for any product. For most products, the top three markets are the three largest cities: New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. However, the top three U. S. pepper markets are Los Angeles, Boston, and New York. The next three largest U. S. markets are San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Chicago. The top markets for Georgia's peppers (based on 1985-87 data) are Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, and Boston.

Georgia distributes most of its peppers east of the Mississippi. The South receives nearly 28 percent of Georgia's shipments compared to 12 percent of the U.S.'s. The midwest receives about 25 percent of Georgia's and 15 percent of the U.S.'s. The remainder of Georgia's production goes to the northeast and Canada.

Pricing

Supply and demand determine the general price level. The competing states production levels determine the supply. Consumers determine the demand by deciding what and how much they will buy. Thus, marketing efforts must be consumer oriented. Consumers normally reflect their wants in the product and product characteristics they buy. The most commonly preferred pepper variety is California Wonder. Characteristics of pepper quality include: shape, thickness, firmness and uniform glossy color. Variety and age determine color. The most preferred color is dark green. Specialty markets may demand red, golden, or other colors. Large peppers normally bring premium prices, regardless of color.

Changes in per capita consumption show that pepper demand is growing. Consumption increased from 2.7 pounds per person in 1972 to 3.5 pounds in 1981, the last year of USDA data. The increase in consumption is a reflection of changes in consumer tastes and is associated with the demand for salad bar items.

Pepper prices vary greatly within a season and between years. Most of the price variation within season is caused by weather effects on production. Price variations among years are caused by changes in acreage and weather. Little of the price variation is caused by demand changes. Demand changes are slight from year-to-year.

For recent prices, see University of Georgia Extension Agricultural Economics annual publication, Vegetable Economics -- A Planning Guide, available through county Extension offices.

Table 5. Pepper Distribution in US & Canadian Cities

From Georgia From US
Million Million
City Pounds Percent Pounds Percent
Atlanta 1.27 18.0% 8.97 2.3%
Baltimore/Wash .27 3.8% 17.60 4.4%
Columbia .10 1.4% 3.13 .8%
Dallas .30 4.3% 14.40 3.6%
New Orleans .00 .0% 5.17 1.3%
South 1.93 27.5% 49.27 12.4%
Boston .40 5.7% 43.93 11.1%
Buffalo .03 .5% 5.17 1.3%
NY-Newark .73 10.4% 35.30 8.9%
Philadelphia .87 12.3% 26.47 6.7%
Pittsburgh .27 3.8% 11.53 2.9%
Northeast 2.30 32.7% 122.40 30.9%
Chicago .90 12.8% 21.30 5.4%
Cincinnati .23 3.3% 9.63 2.4%
Denver .07 .9% 5.73 1.4%
Detroit .40 5.7% 12.90 3.3%
St. Louis .13 1.9% 7.90 2.0%
Midwest 1.73 24.6% 57.47 14.5%
San Francisco/ Oakland .03 .5% 29.53 7.4%
LosAngeles .00 .0% 46.47 11.7%
Seattle-Tacoma .00 .0% 10.13 2.6%
West .03 .5% 86.13 21.7%
U.S. 6.00 85.3% 315.27 79.5%
Montreal .17 2.4% 24.80 6.3%
Toronto .87 12.3% 38.70 9.8%
Ottawa .00 .0% 5.27 1.3%
Vancouver .00 .0% 9.87 2.5%
Winnipeg .00 .0% 2.63 .7%
Canada 1.03 14.7% 81.27 20.5%
Total 7.03 100.0% 396.53 100.0%
Source: Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Arrival Totals, USDA-AMS.

Wholesale Buyer Preferences

A 1986 Virginia survey asked buyer opinions about the relative importance of various handling procedures and product characteristics on the marketability of vegetables. Overall, buyers felt that proper post-harvest handling/cooling procedures were most important to the marketability of the crops. Closely following were reliability of shipments, consistency and quality, and packaging standards. Buyers indicated volume was the least critical. However, they did indicate that shipment volumes were important for gaining access to certain markets.

A Georgia survey asked buyers to rank the factors that influenced their decisions to buy from new suppliers. ("Analysis of Pierce County Vegetable Surveys," William O. Mizelle, Jr., and John E. Smith, Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, May 1988) Ability to provide consistent quality was ranked first. Ability to provide adequate volume was ranked second. Ability to provide the product within a specified time frame was ranked third. Ability to provide packaged product was ranked fourth. Closeness to other established areas was ranked fifth. Relative size of supplier's operation was ranked sixth.

Georgia pepper growers have benefited from a growing market for peppers. Georgia's reputation for providing quality peppers in the quantity demanded has improved. Competition from other areas in the Southeast requires that this reputation be maintained and improved. As production continues to expand some growers will not be able to compete. Production skills alone will not insure survival. Marketing will increase in its importance.

PRODUCTION COSTS

William O. Mizelle, Jr., Extension Economist

Pepper growers can use enterprise budgets to estimate production and break-even costs. Budgets include cost estimates for those inputs necessary to achieve the specified yields over a period of years. Since production practices vary among growers, each grower needs to adapt budget estimates to reflect his or her individual situation. (Detailed printed and computerized budgets are available in most county Extension offices.)

Types of Costs

Total costs of producing any crop include both variable and fixed costs. The variable or operating costs vary with the cultural practices used. Common variable costs include seed, fertilizer, chemicals, fuel, and labor. Fixed costs include items such as equipment ownership (depreciation, interest, insurance and taxes) management and general overhead costs. Most of these costs are incurred even if little production takes place and these costs should be considered when planning production costs.

Variable costs are further broken down into pre-harvest and harvest operations in the budget. This provides you an opportunity to analyze the costs at different stages of the production process.

Land cost may either be a variable or a fixed cost. Even if you own the land, there is a cost. Land is a fixed cost in this budget. If land is double-cropped, charge each enterprise half the annual rate.

A fixed cost per hour of use shows ownership costs for tractors and equipment (depreciation, interest, taxes, insurance, and shelter). Overhead and management are 15 percent of all pre-harvest variable expenses. This amount pays for management and farm costs which cannot be allocated to any one specific enterprise. Overhead items include utilities, pick-up trucks, farm shop and equipment, and fees.

Cost/Unit of Production

The cost categories (Table 8) are broken down in cost per unit at the bottom of the budget. The preharvest variable costs and the fixed costs decline with increases in yields.

Table 6. Costs per 1/9 bushel carton from the 1987 Extension Budget:
Pre-harvest cost $1.25
Harvest & marketing cost $4.05
Fixed cost $0.44
Total cost $5.74

(For current cost estimates, see most recent Extension vegetable budgets.)

Budget Uses

In addition to estimating the total costs and break- even costs for producing peppers, there are other uses of the budgets.

Estimates of the cash costs (out-of-pocket expenses) provide information on how much money needs to be borrowed. The cash cost estimates are helpful in preparing cash flow statements.

In the instance of share leases, the cost estimates by item can be used to more accurately determine a fair share arrangement by the landlord and tenant.

Risk Rated Net Returns

Since there is variation in yields and prices from year to year, an attempt is made to estimate the "riskiness" of producing peppers. The Extension Agricultural Economics Department uses five different yields and prices to calculate risk. The median values are those prices and yields a particular grower would anticipate to exceed half the time. Half the time, he or she would anticipate not reaching below these prices and yields. Optimistic values are those prices and yields a grower would expect to reach or exceed in one-year-in-six. The pessimestic values are poor prices and yields that would be expected one-year-in-six. The best and worst values are those extreme levels that would occur "once a lifetime" (1 in 48).

The risk rated section (Table 7) shows there is a 73 percent chance (about three years out of four) of covering all costs. One half the time the budgeted grower would expect to net $528 or more. Half the time he would expect to net less than $528. One year-out-of-six he would expect: to make more than $1289 per acre; to lose more than $312. Over a period of years, this grower would anticipate an average or expected returns of $487 per acre.

SUMMARY

Successful pepper production is always challenging and often times difficult. However, it remains an economically feasible production enterprise for many Georgia vegetable growers. The authors of this publication have attempted to bring together, condense, and provide the information and recommendations needed for producing and marketing high yields of excellent quality peppers. For additional or more detailed information, please contact the local county Extension office.

Table 7. Risk Rated Returns Over Total Costs Net return levels (top row); the chances of obtaining this level or more (middle row); and the chances of obtaining this level or less (bottom row).
Optimistic Expected Pessimistic
* Returns 1690 1289 888 487 87 -312 -711
Chances 9% 16% 28% 53%
Chances 47% 26% 16% 10%
Chances for Profit = 73% Median Net Revenue = $538


Table 8. Pepper Yields, Prices, Costs and Revenue Estimates.
Best Opt Exp Pess Worst
* Yield (cartons) 700 500 350 175 0
* Price per carton 10.750 9.00 7.25 5.50 4.00
Item Unit Quantity Price $/Acre
Variable Costs
Plants 1000 14.00 9.50 133.00
Lime, applied Ton .50 24.00 12.00
Fertilizer Cwt 10.00 6.50 65.00
Sidedressing Acre 1.00 15.00 15.00
Insecticide 1/ Appl. 5.00 6.00 30.00
Fungicide Appl. 5.00 9.30 46.50
Herbicide Acre 1.00 5.00 5.00
Machinery Hour 5.00 9.65 48.25
Labor Hour 8.00 4.50 36.00
Land rent Acre 1.00 .00 .00
Irrigation Appl. 3.00 6.25 18.75
Interest on operating capital $ 409.50 .13 26.62
Pre-Harvest Variable Costs 436.12
Harvest and Marketing Costs
Picking and hauling Carton 350 1.25 437.50
Grading and packing Carton 350 1.00 350.00
Container Carton 350 1.30 455.00
Marketing Carton 350 .50 175.00
Total Harvest and Marketing 4.05 1417.50
Total Variable Costs 1853.62
Fixed Cost
Machinery Hour 5.00 6.00 30.00
Irrigation Acre 1.00 35.00 35.00
Land Acre 1.00 25.00 25.00
Overhead and management $ 436.12 .15 65.42
Total Fixed Costs 155.42
Total budgeted cost per acre 2009.04
Costs Per Carton
Pre-harvest variable cost per carton $1.25 Harvest & marketing cost per carton $4.05
Fixed costs per carton $0.44 Total budgeted cost per carton $5.74
1/ Fall plantings may require as many as eight (8) applications.

Bulletin 1027/February, 1990

The University of Georgia and Ft. Valley State College, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and counties of the state cooperating. The Cooperative Extension Service offers educational programs, assistance and materials to all people without regard to race, color, national origin, age, sex or disability.

An Equal Opportunity Employer/Affirmative Action Organization Committed to a Diverse Work Force

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.

Gale A. Buchanan, Dean and Director


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