“Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same;

Through all of our running and all of our cunning, if we couldn't laugh, we'd all go insane.”
Jimmy Buffett

Change never comes easy, according to Parrott-head philosopher Jimmy Buffett, but a proper attitude makes the transition a bit easier.

Andy Timmons, a Brownfield, Texas, peanut farmer, says alterations in the peanut program, along with changes in water availability in west Texas, mean a few adjustments in production strategy will be in order.

“We've made some changes the last few years,” Timmons says. “In the past, we planted about three-fourths of our acreage in cotton and one-fourth in peanuts. Now, with a limited water supply, we'll switch to one-fourth wheat, one-fourth peanuts and half cotton.”

Timmons says changes in the peanut program may alter variety selection. “For the last few years, we've grown some Spanish peanuts. We can cut off irrigation about two weeks earlier than we can with runner-type peanuts,” he says.

“We can start digging Spanish peanuts Sept. 25 to 28. With runners, we usually wait until Oct. 10 to 15 to get started. We also plant Spanish a week later than we do runners.”

The drawback with Spanish has been lower yield and a $25 per ton hit on price. Under the new program, Timmons expects all peanuts to be priced the same. “Manufacturers will need Spanish peanuts and we could find a niche market for them.”

He also likes to keep a few Spanish peanuts in his planting mix to spread harvest.

Even with water limitations and program changes, Timmons says he can't afford to alter some production practices.

“Rotation, a one-in-four schedule for peanuts, is critical,” he says. “Sound rotation helps keep yields up, so I'll keep peanut acreage pretty consistent. I see no reason to try to make up ground with a two-year rotation and then lose yield.”

He says one advantage of the new peanut policy is that prices remain consistent. “That gives us a benchmark to plan acreage,” he says.

“I can't really justify cutting production costs on peanuts. I may cut back on tillage in cotton, as well as limit irrigation. But I'll water my peanuts. With some crops, rescue irrigation may be adequate, but we can't irrigate peanuts the way we do cotton, on an off. Peanuts need consistent moisture, about 28 inches to make a crop.”

He says two tons per acre represents a decent yield. “We'd like to make three tons and that's our goal, but most years we hit two.”

He says water availability began to drop noticeably in 1998. “We put a strain on water supply that year and again in 2000. Since 1998, we have from one-half to two-thirds the capacity we did before.”

Water quality also concerns him. “Those are the biggest limiting factors we have in peanut production. Poor water quality and limited quantity equals a bad peanut crop.”

Quality problems include salt content and boron. “If we have a lot of water and a high salt content, we can use a lot of water and flush out the salt. But there's nothing we can do with boron and it's very toxic.”

He says March rains, up to five inches, gave him a good base to start the 2002 season. And narrowing row spacings from 40 inches to 30 also improves efficiency.

“Sometimes we don't get enough rain for 40-inch rows to lap the middles. With 30-inch spacings, we have 10 fewer inches for peanuts to lap. Covering the ground traps moisture under the canopy and shades out weeds.

“The soil also stays cooler for pegging and we seem to get less competition between plants.”

Timmons says peanuts in 40-inch rows will perform well, with adequate water. “But 30-inch rows are equivalent to double rows of 40-inches.”

He tries to keep production costs as low as possible without sacrificing any practice that would jeopardize yield. “We spend from $400 to $500 per acre to grow peanuts,” he says. “Those costs will increase over the next few years because we'll probably need more fungicides. Also, yields could decline (as disease pressures mount). That affects efficiency. High yield is essential in this area to stay profitable.”

rsmith@primediabusiness.com