Rotation cited as key factor in consistent peanut yields
The secret to maintaining consistently high peanut yields in West Texas is hardly a secret: It’s rotation.
“We’ve been growing peanuts in Hockley County for seven or eight years,” Says Jim Davis, who farms 3,000 acres of cotton, peanuts and wheat with his son-in-law Ron Alexander. “When we first started we didn’t know anything about raising peanuts but folks who did told us the key was to rotate. We’ve never planted peanuts behind peanuts. We usually go three or four years between peanut crops on the same field. I’ve seen some neighbors grow continuous peanuts and they get in trouble.”
Rotation was a significant factor in Davis’ and Alexander’s near 5,000-pound per acre average on 195 acres in 2005, a production and efficiency level that earned Davis (and Alexander) the 2006 Southwest Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award. Davis will accept the award in July at the Southern Peanut Farmers’ Federation annual meeting in Panama City, Fa.
They rotate with cotton, “usually two or three years in cotton and then back to peanuts,” Davis says. “Cotton following peanuts will make from one-fourth to one-half a bale per acre more. That increase may show up the first year and sometimes the second year after peanuts.”
That rotation system, along with a typically arid climate, allows Davis and Alexander to get by with only rare fungicide applications.
“We have very little disease pressure,” Davis says. “We had some in 2004 and 2005, leaf spot and pepper spot. But we had more moisture. In 2004 we had 45 inches of rain. We usually get 15 inches annually. A lot of that moisture carried over into the 2005 crop and helped make that a good year.”
That moisture may have contributed to slightly higher disease infestations, Davis says. “We sprayed Stratego for leaf spot and pepper spot, just one time in 2005,” Davis says.
“We had two good years in a row. Good moisture made a difference.”
They irrigate all 195 acres with center pivot units. They use furrow dikes in every other row, “even on flat land to hold water in the fields.”
They still believe in breaking land. “We break in the fall, after harvest, float it, fertilize, and add herbicide (Prowl or Sonolan).”
They like to get basic tillage done in the fall but don’t always finish before winter. “The last two years we’ve had such big cotton crops we were well into winter breaking land.”
“We fertilize for 2.5 or 3-bale cotton,” Davis says. “Then (depending on prices and other considerations at planting time), decide whether to plant cotton or peanuts.”
They also apply 40 to 50 units of nitrogen “about pegging time, usually between bloom and pegging.”
They rely mostly on herbicides for weed control. “I apply Valor before cracking time,” Davis says. “We might cultivate once, when peanut plants are small.”
The worst weed problems include careless weed, thistles, spurred anoda and wild sunflower. “Valor takes care of most weed problems. It did an excellent job last year,” Davis says. “One application has been adequate.”
He typically applies the herbicide just before cracking and cultivates to clean up.
Insects have been a non-issue. “We’ve never had to spray for insects. We sometimes get our cotton consultant to look at peanuts if we think we might have an insect problem. We’ve had none so far.”
Irrigation frequency has been a bit less the past two years. “We had to irrigate considerably less than usual in 2004.” Moisture from that year helped get the 2005 crop started as well. “We had to irrigate about 10 times last year,” Davis says, “about 1 inch per application.”
“Some years,” he says, “we had to turn on the irrigation pumps and leave them on.”
He had less soil moisture to start the 2006 crop. “I like to make certain we have at least enough moisture to keep seed from drying and to seal off the soil. I also want enough to activate the inoculant.” He applies a granular inoculant, 5 to 7 pounds per acre, as he plants.
They’ve added calcium before but found no advantage.
Davis and Alexander prefer to start harvest the first of October, before cotton and before threat of a hard freeze. “Usually, we harvest simultaneously with cotton,” he says.
Davis says peanuts have proven a good rotation with cotton and wheat (which they plant mostly on dry corners). “We can’t grow corn, soybeans or milo profitably, and peanuts provide a good income crop.”
He plants all runner types, FlavoRunner 458 this year. “They were the best we had in 2005,” he says. He plants in early May.
They’ve planted Spanish peanuts in the past, usually behind hailed-out cotton. “They offered better profit potential than milo,” Davis says.
Davis says Alexander came into the farm (They also operate a farm supply business together.) 25 years ago. “It’s a 50/50 partnership,” Davis says. “We farm the 3,000 acres together.”
Consistency is the key for Peanut Profitability Award winner
Maintaining cost efficiency in peanut production has more to do with consistency than just about anything else, contends southwest Georgia grower Andrew Collins.
“We put the same amount into our crops each year,” says the Edison, Ga., farmer. “We’ve found that if we ever cut back on one particular input, it’ll cost us.”
Collins believes in beginning with a plan at the start of the season and sticking with it through the end. “We’re not going to get the crop three-fourths of the way completed and then say we can’t afford to finish it. We’ll do whatever we have to do. If it doesn’t look good at the end of the season, that’s when we’ll reevaluate things,” he says.
Collins’ consistency both in yields and in maintaining costs has earned him the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award for 2006 for the Southeast region.
He farms about 1,200 acres of land, including 400 acres of peanuts, 400 acres of corn and 400 acres of cotton, planting all crops in a one-in-three rotation. “We have an excellent team, including good employees, a good consultant, and a good pilot. Everything has been running very well now for the past five years or so,” he says.
Collins came back to the farm full time about 13 years ago, after graduating from
Georgia Southern University with a degree in business management.
Although an average annual peanut yield of 4,500 to 4,600 pounds per acre is very good, Collins isn't satisfied. “We have made yields as high as 5,900 pounds per acre on individual fields, but it has been difficult to break that 4,500-pound overall average on the entire farm. With our heavy, red soils, we have a difficult time gathering peanuts,” he says.
He usually averages about 1,200 pounds per acre on cotton and 200 bushels per acre on corn. “Our corn and cotton yields are really good. We need to work on increasing our peanut yields. As an average, 4,500 pounds per acre isn’t bad, but we need to do better."
He hopes the harvesting process will be made easier this year with the purchase of a KMC flex inverter. “Our shaker is about 15 years old, and it doesn’t have a lot of adjustability — we couldn't move the blades around to our satisfaction, especially with twin rows. The versatility of the new machine should be a big help,” he says.
All of Collins’ land is irrigated, with 27 center pivot systems pulling water from ponds and wells. Each system is equipped with low-impact sprinklers to improve efficiency and coverage. He uses Irrigator Pro — an expert system from that National Peanut Research Laboratory — for scheduling irrigation. It uses soil temperature and rain gauges to help determine when to water and how much.
Irrigation and timing, he says, are essential to the profitability of his farming operation. “We water the crops as we should, and we try to be on time with everything we do. We’re small enough that we can do that. We have a good enough rotation that by the time corn comes off, it’s about time to water cotton and peanuts, so we don't have many conflicting issues with irrigation,” says Collins.
He has been planting twin-row peanuts for five years. “So far, we have had mixed results with twin-row. I think it may take several more seasons and maybe other varieties to see the full advantages of twin-rows on our farm. We always try to plant peanuts between May 10th and May 30th, but never before the 10th. I’d rather plant on the 29th than on the ninth. When planting later, we have never had much of a problem with tomato spotted wilt virus.”
When applying fungicides for early and late leafspot, Collins sticks to a strict schedule, spraying every 10 to 14 days regardless of weather conditions. “We apply our fungicides by air, so we are able to apply when needed. We follow a seven-spray regime using Bravo/Tilt, Abound and Moncut. We’ll always put out two treatments of Abound and one of Moncut, with the timing depending on the weather and the maturity of the crop. We usually have about $98 per acre invested in our fungicide program,” he says.
All of Collins’ crops are planted conventionally. “With peanuts, we turn the land and put out our yellow herbicide. We then plant about 140 pounds of seed per acre or about three and a half seed per foot. We apply about 5 pounds of Temik per planter, or about 10 pounds per acre. We’ll burn down with Storm, 2, 4-D, and Gramoxone Max. Then we'll go back 10 days later with liquid Cadre. That usually takes care of any weed problems.”
As for varieties, Collins will be planting all Georgia Green this year, but he’s not totally satisfied with his choice.
“I would like to see another variety that we could grow here. We did much better when we planted the larger GK-7 peanuts. When we irrigate or get heavy rains, the Georgia Greens seem to clump together when inverted, which makes it difficult to gather in our soil.
Many farmers in Georgia who grow both peanuts and cotton have been concerned in recent years about problems with lint quality, caused at times by harvest delays because peanuts and cotton need to come out of the field at the same time. But Collins has a system that alleviates such problems.
“We have two six-row peanut pickers and a four-row cotton picker. We put two people on the peanut pickers, one on the cotton picker, and one on the module builder.
So far, we have been able to harvest both crops at the same time. I’d like to get to the point of harvesting each crop in about 10 to 12 days. That’s how we need to do it, especially considering the high inputs of each crop. We need to have pretty good yields to support what we are doing.”
Low overhead costs for equipment and land also help Collins maintain efficiency on his farm. His newest tractor is three years old while the others have about 8,000 hours on them. His family also owns most of the land he farms.
Good conditions at harvest helped in reducing costs this past year. “We didn't have to dry many peanuts in 2005. We dug them, waited for them to dry, and then picked them.”
Like other farmers in the Southeast, Collins has been plagued this season by extremely dry weather conditions.
“We're in desperate need of rain,” he said in mid-June. “We started off with marginal subsoil moisture and it is going to be tough to meet the moisture needs with just irrigation. We’re trying to water 360 acres of corn, and we’re getting to the point of needing to start watering peanuts and cotton. Considering the price of fuel, this is shaping up to be a very expensive year.”
Collins and his wife Leigh Anne have a seven-year-old son, Andrew.
Peanuts add profit for SC dairy farmers
When peanut acreage began its meteoric rise in popularity in South Carolina in 2003, Landy and Hugh Weathers took a wait-and-see attitude. In 2004, serendipity stepped in and they began growing peanuts, which has had a positive effect on their dairy operation.
Their peanut production efficiency has also led them to being named the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award winners for the Upper Southeast — Virginia/Carolina — area.
Weathers dairy was established in 1927. Though it remains their primary farming enterprise, the addition of peanuts to their row crop rotation has indirectly affected their cost of producing feed for their 600 or so head of dairy cows, and has improved the quality of milk they get.
They jokingly refer to their business relationship as a split family. Landy earned a degree in agronomy from Clemson and Hugh earned a degree in business accounting from the University of South Carolina. Both are active in farm leadership. Landy is one of four vice-presidents of the South Carolina Farm Bureau. Hugh is Commissioner of Agriculture and Industry in South Carolina.
Since 2002, peanut production in South Carolina has grown from 10,000 acres to over 60,000 acres, with nearly 50 percent of that production in a small area in the central part of the peanut belt that stretches in a two-county wide belt from Georgia to North Carolina. The Weathers brothers farm in the heart of that peanut hub, in Bowman, S.C., which is about 50 miles from Charleston.
How the Weathers brothers got into peanut farming is a little bit of luck — both bad and good, and some careful planning for the future. Circle W Farms is the Weathers brothers’ agronomic crops operation, and is responsible for providing feed for their dairy operation.
“The primary roughage for our dairy has always been corn silage. We have always known there are other ways to feed cows that are more efficient and healthier than a corn silage ration. We have dabbled in wheat, oats and ryegrass over the years. The best of those options is clearly ryegrass, but it creates major problems because it is such a tough crop to get rid of once you harvest it,” Weathers notes
“In the summer of 2003, we had a terribly wet summer, and we didn’t get all our corn harvested before it over-matured. We ended up with about half a crop of corn, and we knew we wouldn’t have enough silage to feed our dairy cows, so we planted ryegrass in the fall. By green chopping the ryegrass in the fall, we were able to make enough silage to get by until the 2004 corn crop was harvested,” he explains.
In 2003, a number of their farm neighbors in Orangeburg County planted peanuts, but the Weathers brothers took a wait-and-see attitude. Their ryegrass crop provided enough silage to significantly reduce the amount of corn they needed. Typically, they would chop the ryegrass in early April and plant corn, but they didn’t need corn. They decided to re-nitrate the ryegrass and make a second chop, which put them too late to plant corn, but perfectly timed to plant peanuts.
At that time, Roundup Ready silage varieties of corn were readily available, which allowed them to plant some corn behind ryegrass. It also made it economically feasible for them to use Roundup to burn down ryegrass to plant peanuts.
Another factor in their decision to get into peanut production was the opportunity to go to strip-tillage on most of their row crop land. Though they had used no-till systems for many years, strip-tillage fit better into their cropping practices. In 2004, they planted their first crop of peanuts, including a 10-acre test strip of ryegrass, using a neighbor’s strip-tillage equipment, and it worked well.
With the stage set, they purchased an Unverferth ripper-stripper and planted 400 acres of Virginia type peanuts in 2005, strip-tilled, with most acres behind ryegrass. The peanuts planted behind ryegrass did much better than peanuts behind corn.
Another factor was the purchase of a row guidance system, which allowed them to plant peanuts in 30-inch rows and eliminated the need to get a second set of planting equipment. They also dug peanuts using the tractor equipped with the Trimble Guidance System.
The guidance system is part of the long-term plan for Weathers farms. Between them Landy and Hugh Weathers have four sons, all of whom have expressed some interest in the farming operation. Landy’s son, Landrum, is a senior at Clemson University and is interested in computerization and precision farming. Hugh’s sons Gill and Edward are students at Clemson University, while younger son Julious is a junior in high school.
“We don’t know how many, if any, of our sons will want to make farming their career, but we know there is more interest in row cropping than dairy farming, so peanuts are likely to continue to grow in importance in our farming operation,” Weathers notes. The use of high tech equipment is an integral part of their college studies, and it is clear to the South Carolina farmer that the next generation of Weathers will make precision farming a big part of future operations.
Weathers says the decision to invest in high tech guidance systems, rather than equipment just to plant peanuts, has paid off in both his peanut and corn crops.
“For example, using the guidance system to apply lime in the spring eliminated overlaps and skips and takes the guesswork out of it. We have seen big benefits in lime, pesticide and fertilizer using the guidance system because we can precisely calculate how much we need to use and use it more efficiently,” he says.
Peanuts have made the use of ryegrass more practical in the Weathers dairy operation. Ryegrass, Weathers says, is now an integral part of their dairy program. Prior to peanuts and ryegrass, he says a typical ration for their dairy cows would have been 60-70 pounds per cow, per day of corn silage, depending on time of year and other factors. Now, we use 18-20 pounds of ryegrass silage and 40-45 pounds of corn silage. Ryegrass has allowed them to reduce corn requirements by one-third.
By reducing corn acreage, he can utilize irrigation on most of that crop, significantly reducing the weather-related risk of growing corn. Ryegrass produces a higher quality ration and higher quality milk, all of which helps the bottom line. The land that was freed up was a natural for peanut production.
Gregory is the primary variety for the Weathers brothers, though they grow a few acres of other varieties. All Virginia-type varieties require landplaster, or some source of additional calcium, but the large-kernel Gregory variety has high calcium needs. Ever inventive, the Weathers brothers used sludge from the nearby Santee-Cooper electric plant, with good results.
Since peanuts is not their primary farm enterprise, being creative and innovative has been a way of life for the long-time dairy farmers. “We bought a used two-row combine, which we hook up to a 100 horsepower tractor. That rig picks every fourth windrow, which allows our six row combine to come back and pick the remaining three windrows,” Landy Weathers notes.
The only thing new we bought strictly for use on peanuts was a digger. We bought two used combines, and the rest we already had. So, getting into peanuts both fit into our farming operation and was economical to get into, he explains.
“The combination of peanuts, ryegrass, Roundup technology and strip tillage has made a tremendous positive impact on our farming operation,” Landy Weathers concludes.