Maintaining cost efficiency in peanut production has more to do with consistency than just about anything else, contends southwest Georgia grower Andrew Collins.
“We put the same amount into our crops each year,” says the Edison, Ga., farmer. “We've found that if we ever cut back on one particular input, it'll cost us.”
Collins believes in beginning with a plan at the start of the season and sticking with it through the end. “We're not going to get the crop three-fourths of the way completed and then say we can't afford to finish it. We'll do whatever we have to do. If it doesn't look good at the end of the season, that's when we'll re-evaluate things,” he says.
Collins' consistency both in yields and in maintaining costs has earned him the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award for 2006 for the Southeast region.
He farms about 1,200 acres of land, including 400 acres of peanuts, 400 acres of corn and 400 acres of cotton, planting all crops in a one-in-three rotation. “We have an excellent team, including good employees, a good consultant and a good pilot. Everything has been running very well now for the past five years or so,” he says.
Collins came back to the farm full time about 13 years ago, after graduating from Georgia Southern University with a degree in business management.
Although an average annual peanut yield of 4,500 to 4,600 pounds per acre is very good, Collins isn't satisfied. “We have made yields as high as 5,900 pounds per acre on individual fields, but it has been difficult to break that 4,500-pound overall average on the entire farm. With our heavy, red soils, we have a difficult time gathering peanuts,” he says.
He usually averages about 1,200 pounds per acre on cotton and 200 bushels per acre on corn. “Our corn and cotton yields are really good. We need to work on increasing our peanut yields. As an average, 4,500 pounds per acre isn't bad, but we need to do better.”
He hopes the harvesting process will be made easier this year with the purchase of a KMC flex inverter. “Our shaker is about 15 years old, and it doesn't have a lot of adjustability — we couldn't move the blades around to our satisfaction, especially with twin rows. The versatility of the new machine should be a big help,” he says.
All of Collins' land is irrigated, with 27 center pivot systems pulling water from ponds and wells. Each system is equipped with low-impact sprinklers to improve efficiency and coverage. He uses Irrigator Pro — an expert system from that National Peanut Research Laboratory — for scheduling irrigation. It uses soil temperature and rain gauges to help determine when to water and how much.
Irrigation and timing, he says, are essential to the profitability of his farming operation. “We water the crops as we should, and we try to be on time with everything we do. We're small enough that we can do that. We have a good enough rotation that by the time corn comes off, it's about time to water cotton and peanuts, so we don't have many conflicting issues with irrigation,” says Collins.
He has been planting twin-row peanuts for five years. “So far, we have had mixed results with twin-row. I think it may take several more seasons and maybe other varieties to see the full advantages of twin-rows on our farm. We always try to plant peanuts between May 10th and May 30th, but never before the 10th. I'd rather plant on the 29th than on the ninth. When planting later, we have never had much of a problem with tomato spotted wilt virus.”
When applying fungicides for early and late leafspot, Collins sticks to a strict schedule, spraying every 10 to 14 days regardless of weather conditions. “We apply our fungicides by air, so we are able to apply when needed. We follow a seven-spray regime using Bravo/Tilt, Abound and Moncut. We'll always put out two treatments of Abound and one of Moncut, with the timing depending on the weather and the maturity of the crop. We usually have about $98 per acre invested in our fungicide program,” he says.
All of Collins' crops are planted conventionally. “With peanuts, we turn the land and put out our yellow herbicide. We then plant about 140 pounds of seed per acre or about three and a half seed per foot. We apply about 5 pounds of Temik per planter, or about 10 pounds per acre. We'll burn down with Storm, 2, 4-D, and Gramoxone Max. Then we'll go back 10 days later with liquid Cadre. That usually takes care of any weed problems.”
As for varieties, Collins will be planting all Georgia Green this year, but he's not totally satisfied with his choice.
“I would like to see another variety that we could grow here. We did much better when we planted the larger GK-7 peanuts. When we irrigate or get heavy rains, the Georgia Greens seem to clump together when inverted, which makes it difficult to gather in our soil.”
Many farmers in Georgia who grow both peanuts and cotton have been concerned in recent years about problems with lint quality, caused at times by harvest delays because peanuts and cotton need to come out of the field at the same time. But Collins has a system that alleviates such problems.
“We have two six-row peanut pickers and a four-row cotton picker. We put two people on the peanut pickers, one on the cotton picker and one on the module builder.
So far, we have been able to harvest both crops at the same time. I'd like to get to the point of harvesting each crop in about 10 to 12 days. That's how we need to do it, especially considering the high inputs of each crop. We need to have pretty good yields to support what we are doing.”
Low overhead costs for equipment and land also help Collins maintain efficiency on his farm. His newest tractor is three years old while the others have about 8,000 hours on them. His family also own most of the land he farms.
Good conditions at harvest helped in reducing costs this past year. “We didn't have to dry many peanuts in 2005. We dug them, waited for them to dry, and then picked them.”
Like other farmers in the Southeast, Collins has been plagued this season by extremely dry weather conditions.
“We're in desperate need of rain,” he said in mid June. “We started off with marginal subsoil moisture and it is going to be tough to meet the moisture with just irrigation. We're trying to water 360 acres of corn, and we're getting to the point of needing to start watering peanuts and cotton. Considering the price of fuel, this is shaping up to be a very expensive year.”
Collins and his wife Leigh Anne have a seven-year-old son, Andrew.