Jason Sauls, Randolph County, Ga., and Jimbo Grissom, Gaines County, Texas, 2004 winners of the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award, outlined some of the challenges they faced to earn the honor as they fielded questions following an awards breakfast, part of the Southern Peanut Growers Conference held recently in Panama City, Fla.

North Carolina winner Joe Ward was unable to attend the meeting.

The most telling difference between the two production systems was in disease control.

“We get on a 12- to 14-day schedule for leafspot control,” Sauls said. “And we also have to treat for white mold and rhizoctonia.”

About 60 days after planting, Sauls looks for white mold pressure and determines if treatment is necessary.

“We probably apply fungicides seven or eight times during the season,” he said.

Grissom uses much less fungicide in the more arid West Texas climate.

“We use a fungicide at planting,” he said, “and we'll apply a half-rate of Abound about 60 days out. We may come back 30 days later with a foliar fungicide.”

Changes program

Sauls changed his peanut production program to avoid tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV).

“I work with the TSWV Index (a numerical scale that rates the risk for infection in each field). Based on that index, I plant later and I always rotate.

“But variety selection is the No. 1 change I've made to battle tomato spotted wilt virus. I plant 100 percent Georgia Green peanuts.”

Georgia Green has some resistance to the virus.

TSWV has not been a problem so far in West Texas peanuts, but growers are aware of the potential damage.

Grissom also relies on one variety, 458 (Flavor Runner). “I grow seed peanuts and 458 has been a good producer. I tried some Virginias a few years back and they did well, but I like the 458s better.”

Water is always the limiting factor for Grissom, who uses a LEPA (low energy precision application) system to improve water efficiency and to make certain he loses as little moisture as possible to evaporation. LEPA systems use hoses, usually set about 80 inches apart, that dangle from the main center pivot irrigation pipe to either drag along the row or spray water just above the canopy. (True LEPA systems, irrigation experts say, employ the drag hoses that dribble water along alternate rows.)

Grissom's system uses wobbler nozzles to apply water just above the peanuts.

“Our water is declining,” Grissom said, “so we have to do everything we can to conserve it.”

Strip-till system

He also plants peanuts in a strip-till system to improve soil organic matter and to help hold moisture, but mainly to reduce damage form wind erosion.

About 75 percent of Sauls' peanuts are irrigated with center pivot systems. Although moisture was plentiful this past year, there's always a chance of drought in southwest Georgia, he says.

Grissom explained how he uses a sandwich digger to protect peanuts before combining.

“Normally, an inverter turns the plant upside down, leaving the peanuts turned to the sky,” he explained. “This machine turns one plant with peanuts up and the next on top of it, peanut-side down. I see more pros than cons in this system,” he said.

“We protect peanuts from frost. (Many West Texas peanuts are not harvested until October.) They dry slower in the hot days and cool nights and seem to cure a little better. We may get a little flavor boost as well.”

He said a self-propelled combine also virtually eliminates harvest losses.

In response to a question regarding the potential for organic peanut production Grissom said he's considered the possibility and that it could work in West Texas. Sauls said he had not considered raising organic peanuts in South Georgia.

Sauls farms in the Sauls Partnership with his father, Billy, his mother, Frankie and his brother Guerry. He, Grissom and Ward represent the fifth class of Farm Press Peanut Profitability winners. The award is presented annually at the Southern Peanut Growers' Conference.

Sponsors for the award include: The Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, Sipcam Agro, Folicur and Temik, Golden Peanut Company, John Deere Company, U.S. Borax, Southeast Farm Press and Southwest Farm Press.

For more information about the program check the Peanut Profitability microsite at www.southeastfarmpress.com or www.southwestfarmpress.com.