There's cutting costs, and then there's cutting one's own throat. Staying on the right side of the fine line that separates the two is the key to maintaining efficiency and high yields in peanut production, says Harris Devane, a southwest Georgia farmer and winner of the 2001 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award for the Southeast Region.
“We have to keep our yields high enough to get a good return from the crop. We try to watch our input costs, but we've stuck with the same basic practices over the years,” says Devane, who farms with his father. Marvin, and farms some of his own land in Randolph County.
In addition to 225 acres of peanuts, Devane also grows cotton, corn, soybeans and wheat in a diversified family operation. In the past two years, he has double-cropped cotton behind wheat in a no-till system.
“The no-till cotton has worked very well for us.” he says. “The wheat residue does a good job of holding in the moisture on these hard, red soils. We don't have to worry about trying to rip up the land and bust clods. We prepare the land in the fall, rip it real deep and put out fertilizer for double-cropping. In the spring, we fall in behind the combine with a planter.”
Devane has been growing peanuts since he first began farming full time in 1984. “We grew mainly peanuts and soybeans because beans were bringing such a good price. Then, the bottom fell out of the soybean market and we started growing cotton in 1990,” he says.
Devane credits crop rotation with the success of his peanut crop. “I try to have at least a three-year rotation for peanuts. I had a four-year rotation this past year with cotton, corn, cotton and then another of corn followed by peanuts. The average yield was almost 4,400 pounds per acre, and I saw very little disease pressure.
“I planted in some new land last year that previously had been in pasture, and it made very good peanuts. I'm convinced that rotation is the key to maintaining good yields. If we can't get a three-year rotation on land, we at least try to get in three crops, such as double-cropping cotton behind wheat and then planting peanuts the next year. Any rotation we can do will benefit the peanuts.”
All of Devane's peanuts are conventionally tilled and planted in twin rows. He turns the land in the fall and lets it lay idle until planting time.
“We apply Sonalan herbicide — preplant incorporated — and then we bed the land and plant it. We've always planted in twin rows, even before it became popular again. We plant an average of about 140 pounds of seed per acre, with a nine-inch spacing between the twin rows. We're planting mostly the Georgia Green variety.”
Devane has seen considerable savings from reduced seed costs. “We buy registered seed, plant it, and then save enough to use for the next year. We run a germination test on all of the seed and pick out the best for planting the next year.”
Devane's entire peanut crop is irrigated with center pivots, with most of the water coming from wells.
“We depend on irrigation to get the peanuts up to a good stand. In some years, it's the only way to get them up and growing. Irrigation also helps in incorporating chemicals, especially during dry periods. We try to put on about one to one and a half inches of water per week.
“We substitute with irrigation if we don't get rain, but nothing can take the place of a good rain. In some years, we have to water just to plow up the peanuts. We'll water until the very end of the season if we have to”
Like other Georgia farmers, Devane has felt the wrath of drought in recent years. “Our wells started surging toward the end of the growing season last year. I had to lower one well 30 feet, and that was as deep as it would go. Luckily, we had enough water to finish out the crop.”
The rising cost of diesel fuel to operate the irrigation systems has cut into Devane's bottom line, but he's exploring more efficient alternatives.
“We've changed two of our systems over to electric power, and that has been a real benefit. We're looking at possibly changing over two more pivots, and we'd like to do even more. The two systems we changed were being run by 300-horsepower diesel motors, burning 10 to 12 gallons of fuel per hour. The electric motors are 150 horsepower, and the electricity is much cheaper than diesel fuel.”
Devane makes his initial disease and postemergence weed treatments at the same time. “We put out an application of Bravo/Tilt and Basagran and Gramoxone at about 20 to 30 days after the peanuts come up. We'll make another Bravo/Tilt treatment, and then we'll use Cadre or Strongarm for additional weed control.
“If we're following peanuts with cotton, we use Strongarm. We've never placed a cultivator in our peanut fields. We've always controlled weeds with chemicals. We've just never believed in plowing peanuts.
“We use a block fungicide program of Bravo/Tilt and Folicur for controlling leafspot, working on a 14-day spray schedule. We applied Abound in the seed furrow this year to help us with tomato spotted wilt virus, aspergillus crown rot and rhizoctonia.”
Devane farms in an area with heavy tomato spotted wilt pressure, and he follows the University of Georgia Tomato Spotted Wilt Risk Index as closely as possible to stay a step ahead of the disease.
“There was a time when we'd try to be finished planting peanuts by the end of April. Now, we follow the index and wait until the first of May to begin planting, and we've seen that it makes a difference in the level of tomato spotted wilt pressure. Planting in twin rows, using an insecticide at planting — they all work together to reduce the risk of tomato spotted wilt.”
As Devane looks to the future, he's uncertain about the ability of U.S. farmers to continue producing peanuts without some type of government support program.
“I don't think we can continue to grow peanuts profitably here without some type of program. With grain and cotton prices being what they are, there just aren't many alternatives, and peanut inputs are so expensive for Southeastern growers.”