One more rain would have made another 500 pounds of peanuts BROWNFIELD, TEXAS, peanut and cotton farmer James Martin describes the 2000 season as "a wreck," citing extreme heat, and prolonged drought as the two obstacles that caused a promising production season to fall apart in mid-summer.

Martin, Southwest Farm Press' first Peanut Profitability Award winner, says peanut yields declined 1,000 to 1,200 pounds in his area.

"And our fields were not exceptions," he says. "We averaged just a few pounds under 4,000 pounds per acre." For many growers, that's a good crop in most years, but Martin usually averages better than 5,000 pounds per care.

"Most growers averaged close to 2,500 pounds. We heard reports that an occasional field would make 5,000 pounds per acre and we had one field to do that," he says.

"Cotton yields also were off, although I had one field that produced 1,586 pounds per acre. Most cotton in our area averaged from three-fourths to just over one bale per acre."

Martin says intense heat, as much as the long drought, hurt peanuts and cotton. "We had adequate water for irrigation for a normal year," he says. "But intense heat that began in July would not permit peanut pegs to set pods."

He says a lot of the area's cotton looked better than it picked. "It was light," he says. "Fields simply did not have as much lint as folks thought."

He says lack of moisture and high temperatures lowered yields.

Yield and quality reductions also came from a wet harvest season. "We had peanuts on top of the ground for as long as six weeks before we could thresh them," Martin says. "We lost some yield there.

"Grades were pretty good, a lot of 81s and 83s. But we also had a high percentage of loose shell kernels (LSKs)." He thinks that having the pods exposed to the elements for such a long period allowed pods to deteriorate, contributing to the high LSK numbers.

"We saw some 10 percent to 20 percent LSK ratings," he says. "Some folks had even more than that. And taking a $.35 per pound price down to just $.7 per pound because of LSK makes a big cut in returns. We also had to harvest peanuts wetter than we like and had to spend money to dry them. That's another cost we had to incur to make this crop.

"I'm just thankful we got through harvest before December. Other farmers were still trying to get crops out of the fields."

Cotton also took a beating from the wet fall. "But we're happy to get the moisture. It will recharge the soil and we'll be in much better shape next spring."

Martin says a rare combination of conditions combined to hurt production for 2000. The hot, dry summer prevented both cotton and peanuts from reaching yield potential. And then a wet fall prevented timely harvest.

"It's just one of those years that come along once in a while," he says. "This crop was a challenge from beginning to end. We had good rains in May and June and from there, conditions went South in a hurry. We had to keep watering just to keep the plants alive. Our fuel bill doubled, so the crop we made was an expensive one.

"If we had gotten just one more rain, we would have made another 500 pounds of peanuts and more cotton. But that's the life of a farmer."

Martin will review a lot of production figures this winter to see if he can find ways to decrease production costs in 2001. He expects higher fuel and fertilizer prices. "I have a lot of stuff to analyze. I don't know if I can cut out anything yet. I will certainly consider reducing the number of trips we make across the fields. I may consider backing off on fertility and shooting for lower yields, but I don't know if that will improve the bottom line or not. I'll have to look closely at the numbers."

He hopes to get a more normal rainfall pattern next year so he can reduce irrigation costs. And he hopes to see prices improve.

"That's where the squeeze is," he says.

In the meantime, he's committed to making the best of the situation.

"We just have to remount and ride through another crop year," he says.