Mike McGuire makes no claim to be an expert peanut farmer with just two years experience, counting this year's crop. But he's working on production techniques he hopes will mesh with his long-time cotton and wheat operation to improve profitability for his Haskell County, Texas, farm.

Peanut production is one of several possibilities McGuire is exploring. Conservation tillage proved its worth years ago in cotton, so he's trying that on peanuts. Same with 32-inch rows and flat planting. He's also looking at drip irrigation for cotton.

McGuire says a cotton and wheat rotation does little to mitigate weed pressure. “For years, I've planted wheat and then cotton in the stubble. I had problems with wild rye and other weeds because I was still planting continuous wheat and continuous cotton and nothing to break the weed cycle, so I decided to try peanuts and cotton.”

He made his first peanut crop last year.

It was also the first time in the county anyone had planted peanuts on 32-inch row spacing, flat and with conservation tillage. “Everything else is on 32 inches,” McGuire says, “so it makes sense to plant peanuts the same way.”

He says Texas Tech agronomist Dan Krieg has promoted narrow rows for years in cotton. “I made some three-bale cotton on 32-inch rows and I believe peanuts will be much less likely to blow out on 32-inch spacing than in wider rows.”

Two-inch difference

He says that there is a difference between 30-inch rows and 32-inch rows. “I have seen occasions where in harvesting 30-inch row cotton that the defoliated leaves will stack up and push in front of the harvester. With 32 inches, we always have enough room for leaves to feed under and between the row units.”

He's also looking at terminating wheat and planting peanuts in the residue. “We got no rain last winter so we would have had to irrigate wheat to make 40 bushels per acre. I hit it with Roundup and planted peanuts (in the residue).”

McGuire was curious about planting peanuts flat. Common wisdom recommends planting on a bed, so he visited with other peanut farmers and found some concern about dealing with old crop residue in flat-planted, conservation-till peanuts. Peanut harvest, some thought, could be more difficult because of the stubble. “But by the end of the season, there's not much straw left,” he says.

McGuire says flat planting saves time, labor and fuel. “It takes a week to throw up beds.”

Conservation tillage has made inroads in the area, but is still not a common practice on most farms. “I see more and more conservation tillage in this area but it's still something of a novelty, especially with peanuts. Peanut farmers have always planted clean-till and on beds.”

He says farmers can evaluate how much good conservation tillage does with a soil probe and attention to earthworm populations. “In just three years without tillage we see a lot more earthworms,” he says. “And the soil just keeps getting better.”

Still fine-tuning

He's still fine-tuning his weed control program. “Farmers all over the county had trouble with weeds in peanuts this year,” he says. “So far, other than making certain I have adequate water, weed control has been my biggest challenge in peanuts.”

Last year he used Prowl, Valor and Paraquat behind his planter and “still needed Blazer and Butyrac. This year I tried Cadre and did not get as good control as I wanted. I may have to use a combination to control weeds.”

He says Caparol and Cyclone make a good combination in cotton. “I've always had good control with Caparol and it's an inexpensive product. The organic matter from conservation tillage also helps. With bare ground, growers need to be aware of splatter from Caparol.”

He also uses a hooded sprayer and Roundup. “Getting rid of careless weed is the key now.”

He waters peanuts a bit differently. “I use a drag hose with cotton, but with peanuts I need to spray water over the top to wet the soil. Peanuts have to have moisture near the top so they can peg. I use a coarse spray pattern to limit evaporation losses. With conservation tillage, the trash on the ground holds moisture better and the soil doesn't crust as bad. Once soil crusts over, it's hard to keep it soft.”

Drip not option

For now drip irrigation is not an option for peanuts. “Digging would be difficult with the buried tape,” he says. “Also, we could grow a healthy vine but might not get enough moisture near the top for pegging.”

He's considering splitting pivots, part of the circle in cotton and part in peanuts. “I may even put wheat on a fraction, peanuts on part and cotton on part or I may leave part of the circle fallow to preserve water for cotton and peanuts,” he says. “We have to watch our water resources. We've had very little recharge in the area because we've had very little rain.”

He says peanuts may not work well under the same circle where he's trying to make three-bale cotton. “Peanuts require more water.”

He's looking at drip irrigation in cotton on 25 acres. “I haven't seen a lot of difference yet, but yields are some better,” he says. “Drip is ideal for this small field and it's a good place to see how it works. I can expand into other fields where drip fits if it does well here.”

McGuire says he was fairly pleased with the 2002 peanut crop. “We averaged 2,500 to 3,000 pounds per acre. My brother, who had planted peanuts for several years, made nearly 4,000 pounds last year.”

He says the 2003 crop should do better. “I've seen some very good yields in this area and I think this crop will be better than last year. We had some timely moisture.”

He's hoping that peanuts will yield well and provide a better rotation option than wheat or grains. “We have to look at something different. We can't make money on wheat.”

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com