John Clay has been thinking for several months about how he might improve his odds of making a profit on his 2016 peanut crop.
“How can we cut expenses without adversely affecting crop yields?” he asks. “If we do things that sacrifice yield, we cut our throats.”
Clay, along with other peanut farmers across the Peanut Belt, face the same dilemma that confronts farmers growing other commodities—low prices, high production costs and limited market opportunities.
“We have to plant a certain amount of seed,” Clay, who farms in Caddo County, said during a welcome reception and cookout the evening before the annual Oklahoma Peanut Expo in Altus. “And seed is not as big an expense as it used to be, compared to other crops. It was once the most expensive seed we planted; now it’s about the cheapest, way less costly than cotton or corn.”
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He says peanut farmers might need to bump up costs under certain scenarios. “If we plant early and run into poor growing conditions early, we might think about using an in-furrow treatment. I’d be hard-pressed to do that.”
“It probably makes more sense to delay planting,” says Todd Baughman, Oklahoma State University Extension agronomist.
One thing that would help Oklahoma farmers, Baughman says, would be to have more genetic diversity on varieties. “Out here, we plant what the shellers want us to plant. Our farmers do not have as many choices as they need. They may not always be able to choose the most disease resistant variety, for instance.”
Clay plants Spanish type peanuts and says one advantage with that option is less susceptibility to sclerotinia.
Peanut farmers can’t cut back on irrigation, he notes. “In some years, we may get rainfall and be able to irrigate a little less. We never know how much we will need to irrigate but expect it to be a bunch. We start each season assuming we will have to irrigate a lot—turn it on and water through the season.”
“To make yield goals, Oklahoma peanut farmers have to push production with water,” Baughman adds.
“It’s hard to put on too much water,” Clay says.
WEED CONTROL CHALLENGE
He says weed control has changed dramatically over the past few years, partly because of herbicide-resistant weed species, but also because some effective herbicides are no longer available or do not work as well as they once did. “We seem to be spending more money for less weed control.”
Most everyone in the Peanut Belt is dealing with glyphosate-resistant pigweed. “The worst weed I have to control is resistant morningglory,” he says. “We have one with a red flower that is hard to deal with.”
Baughman says an effective weed control program now requires three or four different applications and still may be without 100 percent control.
“Unless we find an extremely clean field to plant peanuts in, we will spend some money hoeing,” Clay adds.
Disease control has also gotten more complex in recent years. “We used to just wait until we saw leafspot before we started spraying. More recently, we start spraying in July. I have sprayed just two weeks before harvest, but I was not certain at the time that I would be able to harvest that early.”
He says it is essential to protect foliage until harvest time. “If the leaves die, forget it.”
Anthony Reed, who farms near Thackerville, says he’s spending time before planting determining what type peanut he will plant in 2016. He’s grown runners for years, mostly because of the high yield potential.
“But Birdsong is coming in and expects to be a bigger presence in Oklahoma; they are more interested in Spanish peanuts,” Reed says. “I’ll be looking at the market types to see what seems best. We used to plant Spanish peanuts but switched to runners back in the 1980s.” He’s looking at a relatively new Spanish peanut, Ole, released by USDA-ARS plant breeder Kelly Chamberlin year before last.
He will plant peanuts and follow his usual rotation, which includes rye for seed, cattle forage and for residue for conservation-till peanuts. “That has worked well for me,” he says. Peanut acreage may drop a bit. “I’m looking at concentrating a little more on cattle while peanuts are down.”
Joe D. White, Frederick, Okla., is looking at several tillage options for 2016. “We are thinking about some moldboard plow, some strip-till and some graze-out wheat and strip till,” he says.
“We will be back to a normal peanut acreage and our usual rotation after being down a little last year. Most of the peanuts will follow cotton with some behind the grazed-out wheat.”
He’s also looking closely at his weed control program and will add Sharpen to his herbicide arsenal, applying about 30 days before planting. He’ll also use a “layered residual” program to improve in-season weed control. “It’s the same thing we’re doing in cotton,” he says.
White will use some products to clean up specific weeds, Cadre for nutgrass and morningglory, for instance. “Valor is helping us out, too. Sharpen will take care of marestail if it bolts a little bit. But we still concentrate on getting weeds early. Starting clean is important.”
Baughman says farmers will do well to stay with what has worked in the past and agrees they have few good choices to cut costs and still make yield goals. “But with everything they do, they need to be as timely as possible to get the most advantage of each practice. Otherwise, they will be battling from behind the eight ball all season.”
The peanut crop has the best production potential on the day it’s planted. “Every mistake a farmers makes after that reduces that potential,” he notes. “If he starts out with a 5,000-pound-per-acre potential but misses a fungicide application, he may lose 500 pounds. If something else is a little late, the potential drops even more. It’s important to try to make that yield goal from the beginning.”
“We have to get as much yield as we can make,” Clay says.