From a 17-year historical perspective, winners and nominees for the Farm Press Peanut Efficiency Award set a high bar for yield, quality, marketing, and adoption of new products and technology, says Dr. Marshall Lamb, research leader at the USDA National Peanut Research Laboratory and lead advisor for the awards program.
“These producers are major influences across all the years of the program,” he said at the annual awards breakfast, held in conjunction with the Southern Peanut Growers Conference at the San Destin Golf and Beach Resort at Miramar Beach, Fla.
The 18th class of winners proves his point. Ray Davis, Courtland, Va.; Curry Parker, Headland, Ala.; and Jake Teichroeb, Welch, Texas, produce good yields of high quality peanuts, but they also excel in marketing and managing key inputs such as fertility, irrigation, pesticides, and technology.
Lamb broke the first 17 years of winners into three groups: 2000-2005, 2006-2011, and 2012-2016.
The national average yield in the early period was 2,860 pounds per acre, but Peanut Efficiency Award winners (known as the Peanut Profitability Award through 2015) averaged 4,400 pounds per acre. That gap has widened over the years — 3,200 pounds per acre national average in the mid-period versus 5,100 pounds for award nominees and winners; 3,800 pounds per acre national average in recent years, with nominees averaging 6,300 pounds per acre.
“The yield trend increase is rising at a more rapid pace than the national average,” Lamb says, “and that’s more difficult to do when yields are already extremely good.”
Award nominees have also been better marketers, averaging $22 per ton better than average in the early period, $54 better in the middle period, and $70 better in recent years. “In many years, the eventual winner was chosen based on selling price,” Lamb says.
Irrigation management also plays a role in the success of award winners and nominees, and that trend is also up. In the early years of the awards program, nominees averaged 3.47 gallons of water applied per ounce of peanuts produced; that dropped to to 2.90 gallons per ounce of production in the middle years, and now is down to 2.40 gallons per ounce.
“Peanuts are a sustainable crop,” Lamb says, noting that growers, including the 2017 winners, don’t skimp on production inputs — they apply only what’s necessary to make yield goals. Winners are based on efficiency, not yield. We consider yield, but also production input efficiency: water, nutrients, and pesticides. We also look at economic factors such as yield, grade, production costs, and market price.”
In a question and answer session following the awards presentation, the 2017 winners discussed some of the practices that result in better efficiency.
ROLE OF THE INTERNET
Bob Kemerait, University of Georgia Extension specialist, asked each farmer to explain how they use the internet.
Jake Teichroeb says the internet has become an integral part of his management. “We use it to monitor water — and farming in a dry area, as we do, that’s a big deal. We get notified of irrigation breakdowns. We check water first thing every morning. We also get product updates, and we have information at our fingertips. It is a vital part of our operation.”
Ray Davis agrees. “The internet keeps us updated on changes; we get product updates from vendors.” Checking the internet is an early routine every day. “It’s a new tool; we haven’t fully realized all that’s available.”
Curry Parker is a holdout. “The internet and Curry Parker do not go together,” he laughs. He relies on old school information gathering. “I live four miles from the Wiregrass Experiment station — that’s the ‘tool’ I use.”
He also looks to the experiment station for updates on new varieties. “I see new varieties growing at the station all year, and I can see which ones might work on my farm. But until something better than GA-06 comes along, I will ride that horse.”
Davis grows seed peanuts, Virginia varieties. “I watch yields and maturity dates to pass along information to other farmers.” He’s planted Bailey for years, but is looking at the high oleic varieties Emery and Sullivan. While Sullivan shows promise, he says, he’s evaluating how it performs in different soil types. “They seem to do better in some soil types than they do in others.”
Teichroeb says he works closely with his agronomist. “Knowledge is important — we have to know which variety will work in a specific field, which practices will and which won’t.” Different soil types and different levels of water quality (some is salty) make a difference in variety performance. “We gather information, and we have to know the earth.”
There are “very talented geneticists across the peanut belt,” Lamb says. “They, along with Extension agronomists and farmers, form a team effort to develop and incorporate new varieties.”
DISEASE CONTROL, IRRIGATION
Disease control strategy may be the most diverse production practice among the three producers. Parker begins a spray schedule about 30 days after planting and stays on a 10- to 14-day schedule “as long as it’s raining. If it turns hot and dry, we park the sprayer.”
Davis may wait until 45 days after planting, but uses a crop advisory program that provides alerts when conditions are favorable for leaf spot. “Some years I might get by with only three fungicide applications.”
For Teichroeb’s dry West Texas climate, “fungicide use is not an issue,” he says. “It’s not part of my production program. If the consultant detects something, we may have to spray one time in some years.”
Irrigation management also differs among the three regions, especially toward the end of the season when questions about maintaining yield and quality could conflict with having soil too wet to allow timely harvest.
Davis says his fields are relatively small, and his center pivot units can make a round, applying 3/10 inch, in about 12 hours. With travelers, he applies 1 inch at a time. “Neither system will keep us out of the field, although in some years we might have a few places that are prone to bog down.”
Teichroeb says he can apply an inch of water through his pivots, and within two or three days can be back in the fields, which are mostly sandy soil.
Parker watches the weather forecasts late in the season, especially about two weeks before digging time. “If it gets dry, I’ll apply a little water. I prefer to have the soil a little wet at harvest. We can lose a lot of peanuts in hard soil.”
All three have thorough weed control programs, including pre-emerge, at-planting and in-season applications. Parker went back to using a bottom plow two years ago. “Breaking the land helped a lot with pigweed,” he says. He uses Sonalan and Storm ahead of the planter, and Valor at planting, even though he says it might cause some crop injury. “But it gets the weeds.” He takes care of escapes with gramoxone or 2, 4-DB.
Teichroeb says, “I follow a 28-day schedule. I deep plow every year to bury weed seed, and that helps.” He uses a pre-emerge herbicide and then Valor at cracking, followed by a 28-day schedule with a generic metolachlor herbicide and Warrant. “We get escapes with hoe hands.” Davis plants on a stale seedbed, which he prepares in March. “I apply a burndown herbicide two weeks before planting.” He uses Prowl H2O at planting, then Valor, then Storm. “I may lay-by with a light cultivation.”
Marketing often makes the difference in profit and loss with a peanut crop, and Peanut Efficiency Award winners don’t neglect the final aspect of the year’s efforts.
“I try not to sell all my peanut crop at the same time,” Parker says. “If the price is good early, I may sell two-thirds, but I like to keep some to sell in the fall or later. We may get a weather market — it’s good to have peanuts to sell year-round.”
Davis grows seed peanuts and sets a contract price early. “Then I just try to hit my yield goals.”
Teichroeb and two friends created a company several years ago, built a warehouse, and market their crops on their own. “We wanted to get a little more out of the crop in the market if we could.”
With a global market, Lamb says, holding peanuts is often a good strategy. “Being able to sell peanuts after harvest, and possibly over more than one marketing year, is a good option.”
Ed White, chairman of the National Peanut Board, which co-sponsors the annual Peanut Efficiency Awards breakfast, says marketing peanuts is a key function of the board.
An important target is China, especially the 300 million Chinese consumers who buy through e-commerce. “We can’t neglect that market,” he says. “Millennials are another important marketing objective, but we also have 20 percent of our budget reserved for peanut research.”
White congratulated the 2017 winners and encouraged them and others to maintain the family farm. “The family structure is breaking down, and we need to preserve it.”
The 2017 PEA winners, based on remarks by the Farm Press editors who introduced them at the breakfast, and on the articles detailing their production practices, are making good on White’s plea. The farms are steeped in family tradition. Parker’s farm, for example, dates back to the late 1800s. John Hart, Southeast Farm Press associate editor, summed it up in his introductory remarks about the Davis farm. “They are good at what they do; members of the Davis family work well together.”