EDITOR’S NOTE — Each summer, Farm Press, along with its co-sponsors, presents the Peanut Profitability Awards to deserving growers from each peanut-producing region who have simultaneously achieved top yields and cost efficiency over their entire operations. Since these awards are based on the previous year’s production, we thought it would be interesting to see how our 2011 honorees fared during the most recent growing season.

 

While it’s impossible to duplicate growing conditions from one year to the next, growers can stick to the production practices that work best, and that’s what south Georgia peanut producer Kreg Freeman does to maintain high yields and top quality.

Freeman, the Lower Southeast Peanut Profitability Award winner in 2011, says he stuck to his usual formula for success this past growing season — including planting on the identical date as in 2010 — but weather conditions were not as kind.

“We had a very dry year in 2011,” says Freeman, who averaged 6,626 pounds per acre in 2010. “Rainfall was very spotty in our area. While my neighbor five miles down the road was getting rain, I wasn’t getting any. But overall, it was a good crop year. We’ll make about 6,000 pounds per acre.”

There are reports, he says, of some growers in his county making 7,000 per acre in 2011.

Diseases and insect pests were not at problem levels this past season, which helped with input costs, he says, and later-planted peanuts fared better than those planted earlier.

Freeman usually sticks with a rotation consisting of about 165 acres of peanuts. He also grows corn and plants rye for winter grazing.

“We’ve got a three-year rotation, and we pretty much stick with it. We plant rye in the fall, and that also helps out with our rotation,” he says.

Freeman was especially pleased this past season with the uniformity and quality of his peanut crop, with grades in the 77 to 78 range.

All of his cropland is irrigated, and he uses IrrigatorPro for a watering schedule on both peanuts and corn. “Our soils are sandy, and even though we thought we were irrigating enough, I always wondered if we really were. It has contributed to our high peanut yields, especially during the frequent dry years,” he says.

Freeman plants the GA-06 variety on the majority of his acres and Tifguard where he has fields with a history of nematode problems. Like other growers, he laments the loss of Temik and hopes his root-knot nematode-plagued fields will hold up next year.

With peanut prices reaching record-high levels, Freeman is looking forward to another good production year in 2012.

Upper Southeast

Despite having only a 250-acre block of his 2,000 or so acres of peanuts under irrigation, drought related problems have convinced Mt. Olive, N.C., grower and 2011 Peanut Profitability Award winner for the Upper Southeast Region Vic Swinson to add more irrigation.

“When we get everything done and accounted for, I think we will be in the 4,000 to 4,500 pound per acre range for our 2011 crop,” he says.

“The crop looked beautiful, but in some fields we had way too many pops and the peanuts just didn’t weigh out as much as we expected,” he adds.

The veteran North Carolina farmer says his irrigated peanuts produced about 1,000 pounds per acre more than his dryland peanuts this last season. With the price of peanuts expected to be at or near an all-time high, doing everything to produce extra yield and quality will pay off, he says.

“Last year, we didn’t get enough rainfall to properly activate the gypsum we put in the soil to provide the added calcium Virginia-type peanuts need. I think that contributed to the high number of pops (peanuts with no kernel or extremely small kernels), and is another reason we are looking at ways to provide more water for our crops,” Swinson says.

Like so many North Carolina farmers, Swinson farms many small, irregular shaped fields that are poorly configured to provide optimum use of large acreage irrigation equipment. He also rents much of his peanut land, and investing in irrigation equipment on rented land can be tricky.

Despite the limitations, he says that irrigation is a big part of his 2012 planning, especially on land that he owns. “If I had the foresight to know what last year’s crop was going to be like and what prices were going to be like, the extra yield would have gone a long way toward paying off the cost of irrigation,” he notes.

In 2011, Swinson produced his second consecutive crop with little or no Temik. This past year he used Orthene mixed in with his innoculum water. The results were okay, as were results two years ago when he used Thimet.

Despite getting by without Temik, Swinson says he would use the product, if it were available. “Temik is a good product, but you have to get moisture for it to work best. Last year getting moisture for any pesticides was a hit and miss proposition across much of the upper Southeast.

As to what peanut prices will be in 2012, the North Carolina grower says it’s strictly a guessing game at this point. Unlike a vast majority of peanut growers, Swinson doesn’t contract his peanuts prior to harvest, so he is sitting on a very valuable crop and is set up to store or use virtually all his peanuts.

The North Carolina farmer is a staunch advocate of taking care of the bottom line of his family farming operation. He tests products on his farm, often two or three times, before he uses them on large acreage in his farming operation.

He also is a firm believer in giving generic products a chance. “I don’t want anything to do with snake oil, but if a generic product proves as effective as more expensive products, I don’t mind saving the extra money,” Swinson says.

Swinson got into the peanut business in a big way with long-time friend and farming neighbor Jort Hudson. They built a storage facility large enough to store and process both their peanut crops.

When the peanut program went away, Swinson had a lot of acres planted to ideal peanut rotation crops — cotton and corn. His best friend is a lifelong peanut grower, so getting into the peanut business big time was a natural thing to do.

Other than adding some irrigation to his farm, the North Carolina grower says 2012 will be much like 2011 — hopefully without the drought, he says.

Southwest

Cornelius Enns, the 2011 Peanut Profitability Award winner from the Southwest, planted no peanuts in 2011.

Prolonged drought — less than one inch from July 2010 through August 2011 — in Gaines County, Texas, made peanuts a risky venture with limited irrigation capacity. So Enns, who farms near Seminole, put all his acreage in cotton.

The dryland crop failed early. The irrigated acreage fared little better.

“I stripped only three circles,” Enns said. “I destroyed the cotton under the other four.”

As he evaluates prospects for 2012, he’s looking at record prices for peanuts but is not committed to planting them just yet.

“If it rains between now and April, I’ll plant 160 acres of peanuts,” Enns said just before Thanksgiving. Without adequate rainfall, he’ll stay with the less water-intensive crop.

He’s hopeful. “We had about two inches of rain in mid-September,” he said. “We got another two-tenths two weeks later. That’s the only rain we’ve had since July, 2010.”

He said the area has just missed several rains in the past few weeks and is encouraged about the prospects of accumulating soil moisture before spring planting time.

“We’re just hoping for rain,” he said.