Ross Terry, vice-president of I.C. Terry Farms in Lake City, Fla., has coined a phrase that he likes repeating: “Things happen here that don’t happen anywhere else.”

When you consider an average peanut yield in 2011 of 5,800 pounds per acre, with no irrigation, during a hot, dry summer, he may be right.

Ross, along with William and James Terry, are the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award winners this year for the Lower Southeast Region. I.C. Terry Farms is truly a family affair, with Ross being a cousin to brothers William and James.

“We’ve been farming this land since right after World War II,” says James. “Our descendents go all the way back to 1882, and we now have a sixth generation coming up on the farm.”

The Terry’s farm about 2,500 acres and have about 200 head of cows. “We control-breed, turning the bulls in at the first part of January and taking them out at the first of April,” says Ross. “Then, we plant about 160 acres of peanuts — only what we can take care of ourselves. We grow rye for winter grazing, harvest it and then sell the seed.

“Our peanuts follow bahia grass. We plant them three years in a row in a field and then tear up another grass patch. We’ve been growing peanuts like this all of our lives, and we’ve found it pays to rotate. We’ll plant a grass patch and then maybe in nine years, we’ll tear it up and plant it back in peanuts.”

Of the Terrys’ 160 acres of peanuts, 80 made more than 6,200 pounds per acre last year, with one plot making more than 7,200 pounds per acre. Their grades averaged about 76.

Bill Thomas, retired Columbia County, Fla., Extension agent who has worked with the Terry’s for many years, says only a few area growers use such a system, but it has worked extremely well for I.C. Terry Farms.

“Other farms just don’t have the mix that the Terry’s have,” says Thomas.

“We have a lot of farms with a lack of rotation, and the economy dictates a lot of that. We used to have soybeans, corn, cotton, peanuts, tobacco and other crops, all of which you could make a net from. But the prices kept falling, and there were only a few crops left that were profitable, so rotations went away.”

Soils also dictate much of what farmers in the area can do, he adds.

Rotation crops limited

“Just a few miles north of here, corn is still being utilized because of the soil types, and soybeans still are being grown in the Florida Panhandle, but in this area, we are limited. We’re too far from the gin for cotton, unless cotton prices are really good, and we don’t have adequate infrastructure to handle corn here. It’s not easy to come up with a workable rotation.”

But thanks to favorable prices, many pastures in the region were turned under this year and planted in peanuts.

Thomas says either the Terry’s are living right, or they’re lucky enough to be located in the rain belt of Florida. None of their acreage is irrigated.

“This soil here is not really considered peanut soil, but we started doing peanut variety trials because we wanted to have comparative data that was local to the north-central Florida area.

“I knew we were coming along with some really good peanut varieties, and we had different soil conditions in this area. The plots at the Terry farm also are used as an educational tool for other growers.

“We also wanted to take a look at the multiple-year performance of peanut varieties, and these trials tell us the yields after the first, second and subsequent years of this rotation.

“If you take a look at the first year behind a grass rotation, you’ll see very little difference regardless of the variety. In the second year, you’ll see some slight differences, and a little more in the third year, due to the adaptability of the variety itself,” he says.

The Terry’s are growing mostly the Georgia-06 variety, but they had a plot of Georgia-07 last year that made 7,200 pounds of peanuts per acre. They are planting all single, 36-inch rows, conventionally tilled.

They try to plant all their peanuts in April, sometimes delaying until the first couple of weeks of May, depending on the weather.

“Our typical disease control program starts with two applications of chlorothalonil, Provost on the third, fourth, fifth and sixth sprays, and then back to chlorothalonil, usually mixed with a material like Topsin M,” says Ross.

Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) has not been an economic problem in the area, he says.

“Up until this year, Temik was always put out at planting, and then over-the-top at pegging. This year, we switched up and used Phorate, and so far, it’s holding up. We’ve had soil-borne disease problems in some fields, especially cylindrocladium black rot (CBR),” says Ross.

Weed control program

As for weed control, the Terry’s have had problems with beggarweed, but Valor has been effective, he says. “We apply it immediately after planting.

“As a follow-up, we apply 2,4-DB four to six weeks after planting and Cadre for nutgrass. Then, we use Classic if needed. We also incorporate Sonalan prior to planting.”

In assessing the Terrys’ keys to efficiency, James says it all starts with the bahia grass rotation. “That’s what makes the entire peanut production system work,” he says.

The family’s peanuts are sold to Lance, and they have a contract for this year’s crop of $750 per ton.

Low overhead, says James, also helps to maintain efficiency and profitability. “Our newest tractor is 12 years old, and the oldest one is 40 years old,” he says. “Both of our pickers are second-hand, but we try to keep them in good condition.”

Labor costs on the farm are also minimal, he adds. “I have a son who helps during harvest, but other than that, it’s the three of us as far as labor.”

“We do what we can do, and what we can’t do, we wait until the next day,” says Ross.

Timeliness is essential on the farm, he says. “Peanuts are our basic crop, so we spend more time on them. We don’t try and get too big, since there are only three of us.”

Retired Extension Agent Thomas says the Terry’s are an asset to the entire agricultural community. “They not only do the work, but they’re more than willing to share what they do. They are open to having people on their farm and sharing their information.”

One way of sharing this information is by hosting the popular Peanut Twilight Tour, set for this year on Thursday, Aug. 16, at I.C. Terry Farms, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

All area peanut growers are invited to the tour, which includes discussions on a wide variety of subjects, and a field tour that includes stops on varieties, pest management options, and updates from University of Florida and University of Georgia peanut specialists.

For more information on the tour, call the Columbia County Extension Office at 386-752-5384.

phollis@farmpress.com