Five inches of rain. That’s all the Guenther brothers, Isaac, John and George, got on their Gaines County, Texas, farm in 2013. Five inches total, and only about three inches fell during the growing season; still they made their best ever overall average peanut yield—6,680 pounds per acre on 465 acres.
It took a lot of irrigation, the brothers say, but by managing other necessary inputs carefully they still produced an efficient crop, earning them the 2013 Peanut Profitability Award for the Southwest Region.
Disease pressure was minimal and required only one application of Abound. They take care of weed and grass problem with a combination of Prowl, Valor, cultivation and hoe hands. They did not need an insecticide application.
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A key to making an efficient peanut crop, they say, is to do as much of the work as they can and hire out only what’s necessary. They hoe peanuts themselves if they can’t find enough labor. They do all their own planting, plowing, digging, harvesting and mechanical work. They built their barn, dug the wells for irrigation systems, did the electrical work and built their homes.
They are accustomed to work. “Even when we were little we would pick a row and hoe it out,” says John, 27, the middle brother. “Farming is all we know, so we do all we can ourselves. We save money and it’s a lot more cost efficient.”
Rotation also helps. The three farm together as I&J Farms, working 1,500 acres of land—mostly cotton and peanuts. They average rotating peanuts every three years but sometimes available water and rotation history may stretch or shrink that interval.
They plant the bulk of their acreage to cotton, but they like peanuts. “We farm as much peanut acreage as we can,” says George, 25, the youngest brother. “We just do better with peanuts. We look at the potential to make three-bale cotton or 5,000 pounds of peanuts and think we can make the yield on peanuts easier than we can with cotton.
“I don’t know if we are better at growing peanuts or just worse at growing cotton.”
“Peanuts have traditionally been our best crop,” John adds. “It’s our money crop.”
They do okay with cotton, however, picking close to five bales per acre on one field with good water last year. Overall, they averaged 800 pounds per acre, including one field they started watering then cut off irrigation to concentrate on peanuts. “We made less than a half-bale on that field,” John said.
He said they harvested none of the 400 acres of dryland cotton. “It failed early.”
Several peanut fields with good water and fresh soil—never irrigated before and previously in either CRP or cotton—produced exceptional peanuts. The land that had never been irrigated had no salt build-up in the soil—an increasingly common problem in West Texas—so young plants were not set back. They also planted peanuts behind a cotton crop that did not make the previous year.
“Fresh ground helps a lot,” John said.
But they watered a lot. “We probably got 3 inches of rain in the growing season,” John said. “We had a little before and a little after.”
“We averaged applying from two to two-and-a-half inches of water a week, George said. “That’s after we pre-watered with 4 inches. We’ve seen a lot of pre-watering the last few years.”
They prefer to water enough to get the peanut crop germinated and growing and then back off a little. “When the peanut plants are small, we try not to water too much,” John said. “When they get to 6 to 7 inches high, we water more but still not heavily. When they start lapping, usually in July, we water heavily. We don’t follow a schedule but check the moisture and add what’s needed.”
The dry weather wasn’t all bad. “We had a lot of sunshine,” John said. “That helped the peanuts.”
They also leased in some new land and drilled five wells that allowed them to irrigate peanuts adequately.
“We had never irrigated peanuts that much before,” George added. “We never shut down the irrigation systems in peanuts from July to September.”
Wobbler irrigation nozzles on low elevation irrigation pivots also help reduce evaporation.
Even with irrigation, 2011 peanut yield was a disappointment. “That’s the only year we averaged less than 5,000 pounds per acre,” George said.
They figure irrigation and fertilizer are their two greatest expenses. Energy cost to run the systems, they say, probably is the biggest expense.
They always break peanut land before planting. The day John and George sat down with Southwest Farm Press to talk about their operation Isaac, 30, was working land a few miles away, preparing for planting season.
“We think breaking land is good for peanuts,” John said. “It helps with weed control. We usually go 14 to 16 inches deep.”
Their fertility program starts with a dry fertilizer, about 300 pounds of 10-27-14 and 6 units of sulfur. They add from 90 to 100 units of anhydrous, chiseled into the ground, about the second week of June. “That works quickly,” George said.
They plant Gregory peanuts, a Virginia type that has yielded well. “We used to grow some runners but we’ve made our best yields with Gregory,” George said. “We topped 7,000 pounds twice and both of those fields were in Gregory.”
They fear that Gregory will be phased out and are not sure what they will plant instead. They typically plant 100 pounds of seed per acre.
The Guenthers begin digging peanuts in late September, “depending on the weather.
“We try to leave peanuts in the ground as long as we can,” George said, “to put a little more weight on them.”
They dry them on the ground as much as they can. “If we can leave them on the ground for about five days and get them to 10 percent moisture, we keep from paying drying costs,” John said.
They started off the 2014 crop about where they started last year, with no soil profile moisture and scant rainfall through the winter and early spring. George said the area got about 2 inches of rain near Easter and had a little snow accumulation earlier. The got some rain from the Memorial Day holiday storms that covered much of the Texas Panhandle with more moisture than most had seen since 2010. The Guenthers got only 2 inches on part of their land and none on some fields.
They were pre-watering, expecting to apply as much as 6 inches before planting.
They also cut back slightly on peanut acreage because of water availability and rotation needs.
The three brothers are beginning to accumulate some land of their own instead of relying on leasing. “We had been leasing mostly from our dad,” George said. “Now we’ve bought some acreage.”
They say the 1,500 acres is a reasonable size for now but may expand at some point. “At 1,500 acres we don’t need to hire help except for harvest,” John said.
“We like to keep it simple,” George added. Hiring labor adds to the complexity of farming.
But they also say that 3,000 acres might be a good target. “We need to grow a little,” George said. “I think 3,000 acres would be big enough and if we saw a good piece of land for sale, we’d try to get it.”
They say buying some CRP acreage recently was one of the best decisions they ever made.
They also give their father, George Guenther Sr., a lot of credit for getting them started. “He worked hard to get big enough to help us get started,” George said. “He’s a big reason we’re growing peanuts.”
The brothers have been farming on their own for seven years but learned a lot about peanuts from their father who has been growing peanuts since the early 1990s. “Dad taught us all we know about farming,” George said.
Apparently, he was a good teacher.
The Guenther brothers will be honored for their achievement as 2013 Peanut Profitability Award winners during the annual Southern Peanut Growers Conference July 24-26 in Panama City, Fla.