Kreg Freeman insists there’s no secret to his style of growing peanuts — it’s just a matter of doing things right and doing them on time — but with 6,626 pounds per acre and the efficiency to match this past year, it’s obvious he’s hit on a successful formula.

“We try to do everything in a timely manner,” says Freeman, who farms in southwest Georgia’s Miller County. “The good Lord helped us out last year and everything fell into place. The main thing at the end of the season was staying on top of irrigation.”

Freeman’s high yields and efficient operation have earned him the honor of being the 2011 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award winner for the Lower Southeast Region. He also was the 2010 State Winner for the Georgia Peanut Achievement Award.

One-hundred-degree temperatures were common last summer in south Georgia, and such extremes quickly dried out the sandy soils farmed by Freeman.

“At mid-season, when we were putting out Temik, the soil thermometer had gone up 6 degrees in one day, and that was how quickly the water was leaving us. But when it got to be harvest-time, we had almost perfect weather all the way through, with picking and digging. The last day we got through picking, it started raining late that afternoon, and it rained 1.5 to 2 inches. We just had a great year, with grades in the 75 to 76 range,” he says.

Freeman says one of his keys to efficiency and holding down costs is that he doesn’t spent a lot on labor, working with one full-time employee and his son, Nolan.

“We do a lot of the work ourselves, and most of our equipment is paid for. You can’t farm with junk, but we try to take care of our equipment and make it last as long as possible. We update as we go along, as we did with the twin-row equipment and the auto-steer, but I try to put back some money for things like that.”

It also helps to have good neighbors, he adds. “For more than 20 years, we’ve swapped out work with our neighbors. We help them pick peanuts and they help us. Rather than pick by the ton and swap money, we just swap out hours of labor, and it always evens out.”

Third-generation farmer

While he isn’t sure it saves him money, he uses his own equipment for drying peanuts.

Freeman has been farming on his own since 1981, when his father passed away. “I’ve been farming since I was old enough to work, but I started having to make all of the decisions at that time. I’m a third-generation farmer. My daddy grew peanuts and was a yield winner in the 1970s,” he says.

Freeman says he’s not doing anything different from other farmers. “We just try and make it all come together, and if everything falls into place, it’ll come out right. In some years, everything clicks, and in some years, it doesn’t.”

He also grows corn and plants rye for winter grazing.

“I never grew any cotton because I would have had to rearrange everything we were doing. We already had the equipment set up for our current rotation, so we just stuck with it. We would have had to drop something if we were going to grow cotton,” says Freeman.

All of the land owned by Freeman is in one location. Over the years, he says, his father bought land as it became available and added on to the size of the farm.

“I stick with the same acres each year,” he says. “And even when the price fluctuates, I don’t change my acreage. We’ve got a three-year rotation, and I stick with about 165 acres of peanuts. We plant rye in the fall, and that also helps out with our rotation.”

All of Freeman’s cropland is irrigated, and in dry years, he has had to feed cows.

“We’ve got silos, and if I didn’t have feed put up, I probably would have had to sell cows because it has been so dry. I wouldn’t start farming without irrigation. Several years ago, I started using IrrigatorPro for scheduling irrigation on peanuts, and we also use the program for corn.

“Our soils are sandy, and even though we thought we were irrigating enough, I always wondered if we really were. IrrigatorPro gives us a heads-up on how fast our soil moisture is being depleted. It has contributed to our high peanut yields, especially last year when it was really dry.”

Freeman runs all center pivots, with groundwater sources. He plants the Tifguard and GA-06 cultivars.

“One of the main pests for us is nematodes. They can be the difference between making 1 ton per acre and 3 tons per acre. I’ve grown Tifguard for two years now and have been well pleased with it. I don’t think it would work in all soil types because it has smaller stems than GA-06. In a light, sandy soil like we have, even in a wet year, you can dig them without any problems.”

He also uses Telone for nematodes, and like other growers, he doesn’t like the idea of losing Temik. “We came back with 10 pounds of Temik last year at pegging, and that plan worked well. I have enough Temik for this year, but next year, I might have to depend totally on Tifguard. I’ve always liked the idea of a little extra insurance.”

Freeman plants whenever the Peanut Rx disease risk index recommends, usually around May 20, in twin rows.

“We had tomato spotted wilt virus so bad on one farm that Georgia Green had just about played out. We planted the GA-03 variety, but they didn’t grade as well. With GA-06, I’ve had grades as high as 81.”

For peanut disease control, Freeman starts with Bravo and sulfur. He uses a seven-spray program, starting with Folicur on the third spray.

“This program works well for us. Folicur by itself won’t cure leafspot. If the weather gets wet, we narrow the two-week intervals between spraying, maybe to 10 to 12 days.”

New weed control approach

Freeman used Valor for weed control for the first time last year and was impressed with the results “I’ve never liked using Gramoxone in extreme heat. It takes a long time for peanuts to recover, even with irrigation. Last year, there weren’t any weeds out there for us to burn down when we used Valor. I don’t know if it was luck or if Valor was that good, but we’ll use it again this year.”

He follows Valor with Cadre.

Resistant Palmer amaranth pigweed hasn’t been a problem for Freeman yet, but he has seen it in neighboring fields. It helps, he says, that he uses atrazine on his corn crop.

In 2011, Freeman sprayed one time with Karate for insects. “In past years, we’ve had to put something in with our leafspot sprays for worms. They didn’t show up last year. With IrrigatorPro, we check thermometers every day, and we can see insect problems when they start.”

Looking ahead to the challenges facing peanut growers, Freeman says stability is the greatest need in farming today.

“We need to be able to plan ahead, and it’s hard to do that sometimes. All of agriculture is a strategic resource for this country, and it needs to be kept strong. Education efforts are falling short in agriculture, and people are starting to become out of touch.”

Freeman says producers need to continue to fund research, even in a time of tight budgets. “If it had not been for the new varieties we have now, I’d almost be debating whether or not to continue growing peanuts. Tomato spotted wilt virus had gotten very bad here. If want to continue to make progress, we can’t put the brakes on research. It’s tough times, but we need to keep it going.”

Years ago, he says, people couldn’t see the benefits of the space program, but technology like the auto-steer tractor is a direct result of this research.

“It’s one of the best pieces of equipment I’ve bought, with yield increases being at least 500 pounds per acre. If I couldn’t run it, my son could. You can get in and stay on the row. I had to buy a new tractor, but Auto-Steer paid for itself in one season.”

In addition to their son, Nolan, who will be attending college in Bainbridge in the fall, Freeman and his wife Leslie have two daughters, Haley, a student at Georgia State University, and Karlie, who is at Valdosta State University.

phollis@farmpress.com