Grower credits rotation for efficiency

Neil Reimer doesn't waste money growing peanuts. He invests it! Reimer's shrewd investment strategy earned him the 2001 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award from the Southwest area, an honor based on overall profitability of the peanut operation, not just high yields for specific fields.

Reimer, a Gaines County, Texas, peanut, wheat and cotton farmer, says peanut production costs run about $600 per acre and yields average 5,800 pounds per acre.

Rotation, fertility and adequate water provide the backbone for his production program, but he admits to being meticulous about giving the crop what it needs to produce yield goals.

“I always set a 5,500 pound per acre target,” he says, “and everything I do is geared toward reaching that goal.”

In some cases, Reimer will hold back on nutrients, if soil tests indicate adequate levels. But he never hesitates to apply what's necessary to make the yield, even in a down market.

“I take soil samples every year,” he says. “I spend money where it's needed. If I have adequate levels of phosphorus, for instance, why spend money on it? It's easy to spend more than necessary if we don't know what we're doing.”

He says that philosophy holds for all his crops, except wheat. “I don't try for high yields on wheat. I grow it for rotation and get a lot of benefit in peanuts and cotton from wheat stubble.

“With peanuts and cotton, I have to keep production up, even in a depressed market. I can't afford to deal with low prices and a poor yield at the same time. I have to watch costs, but I can't cut out what's necessary to make a profitable yield.”

Disease pressure in peanuts, for instance, is relatively low and he rarely uses a fungicide for leaf spot control. But he always applies Ridomil Gold to head off pod rot.

“Whether I need it or not, I band Ridomil Gold every year,” he say. “By the time I see pod rot developing, it's too late to cure it. And for a $40 per acre investment, I can keep it in check. I think it's worth the money.”

He applies fungicides only as needed, based on a crop consultant's recommendation, followed by his own observations. ‘I don't spray unless it's necessary,” he says.

He says the most important thing to control disease, however, is rotation. He follows a strict four-year program with peanuts, cotton and wheat. “I grow peanuts and then two years of cotton, followed by winter wheat. I harvest wheat in early June and let the land rest until it's time to plant peanuts again the next spring.

“Some farmers believe they have to put every acre of land in production every year. But I am far more efficient by letting the land rest every fourth year. I like to have one-fourth of my acreage out of production every year.”

He says benefits come from several areas. “I have more water to irrigate the other acreage if I leave land idle,” he says. “Idle acreage also helps with production expenses (equipment and labor) and it rests the land for peanuts.”

He figures rotation saves him at least 50 percent on fungicide costs.

He's also convinced that minimum-tillage improves efficiency. “I know I sleep better when peanuts are planted into wheat stubble,” he says.

He shapes beds just after he strips cotton and plants minimum-till wheat in standing cotton stalks. “I leave the stalks until the wheat is established,” he says. “In late January or early February, I shred the stalks. When wheat is about knee high, I kill it with Roundup. I like to knock it back just before it heads out so I can get winter weeds as well.

“I also sometimes hit cotton and peanuts with Gramoxone, just before the plants emerge, to get early weeds that come up after I pre-water and plant.”

Reimer cultivates minimum-till peanuts only twice. If he has conventional peanuts, he cultivates at least five times, in addition to any sand fighting he has to do early.

He says the stubble in minimum-tillage peanuts eliminates much of the wind and sand damage that bare-land crops suffer.

He put acreage he just purchased in conventional peanuts this year, but as soon as he gets his routine established, he'll move to minimum-till.

“It takes a few years to get new land the way I want it,” he says.

He says establishing a stand with minimum-till peanuts has posed problems. He uses a John Deere 1700 Vacuum flex planter. “I see no real difference in planting in minimum-till and in conventional,” he says. “With our system, we're still planting into a prepared seedbed.”

He breaks land every four years, following the peanut crop.

Reimer says peanut profitability includes attention to grades. “I always push for top grades,” he says. “Last year we had a lot of 74s and a good many 76s. I'm not used to that many 76 grades and we even had some that graded 77.”

He says grades result from high quality seed from seed companies and from production practices that promote crop health. He's convinced that a rigid rotation system adds to grade.

“Harvest efficiency also makes a difference,” he says. “I custom harvest peanuts for other farmers and am careful to run the combine to keep grades as high as possible.”

He prefers to harvest his peanuts at a little higher moisture to avoid grade problems.“I plant April 15 and harvest the first week of October. I want to be done by Oct. 5,” he says.

“I don't worry about maturity too much. I don't want to push the crop into potential frost season.”

He likes to combine four days after digging. “I'll cut that to three days if a cold front is coming.”

A moisture level of 18 percent to 22 percent is ideal for threshing, he says. “Anything higher and we run into high drying costs. But some drying may be a good investment. A $25 to $35 per ton drying bill may reward a grower with a higher grade. We get less foreign matter and fewer splits by harvesting earlier and drying.”

Reimer says the other essential element to efficient peanut production is adequate water. He has capability for 600 gallons per minute and runs all Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA) systems.

“If we have good moisture going into August and September, we have a good chance of making high yields,” he says.

He says peanuts need at least one inch of water per week in early June. By the end of the month, they need an inch and a half per week through September.

Reimer recently hooked his irrigation systems to a computer monitor that alerts him if a unit goes down. A display in his truck indicates which unit is down and how long it's been out of commission.

“In addition to helping us get water restored as soon as possible, the computer saves a lot of time troubleshooting irrigation systems,” Reimer says.

He gets as much advantage out of irrigation units as possible and uses the pivots as large spray booms.

“If we have to water early, we add fertilizer through the system” he says. “If we want to push the crop, we have to do it when it's young. I want to have all my fertilizer out by the last week in July.”

He doesn't waste fertilizer, but he doesn't skimp on it either. “I may apply 200 to 220 units of nitrogen to peanuts, especially if we've had adequate rainfall and have saved money on our irrigation bill.”

He may add granular fertilizer to new land, but applies most, including calcium, through irrigation systems.

Reimer departs from tradition with varieties, as well. He grows Virginia type peanuts, mostly NC 7s and NC 12s, with some Jupiters this year.

“This is the first year for Jupiter peanuts,” he says. “Advertisements indicate they'll yield 50 percent better than other Virginia type peanuts. They look good so far.”

He says Virginias may be a bit more challenging than runner types, especially with disease. “But I've grown them with no major disease problems, and I get a little premium for them.”

Reimer performs a high wire act trying to balance yield against the increasingly high costs of producing peanuts and cotton. But he's convinced that setting high yield goals, 5,500 pounds for peanuts and three bales for cotton, pushes him to give the crop what it needs and allows him to make efficient, profitable yields.

“We are cautious with production expenses,” he says. “We make sure we can justify our investments.”

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