Moving from Central Texas to the High Plains required some soul searching for Jimbo Grissom's family some 20 years ago. But they had to do something. Average peanut yield on their farm near Stephenville had dropped to around 2,300 pounds per acre on irrigated land and as low as 1,200 pounds per acre on dryland production.

They even farmed in Georgia one year, looking for a way to keep peanuts profitable.

“If we hadn't had the quota system we couldn't have afforded to grow peanuts,” Grissom says.

They moved to Gaines County in 1984.

The move paid off. Grissom averaged 5,400 pounds per acre in 2003, something of a down year on the 800 acres he grows near Seminole. Still, that yield and his efficient production practices earned Grissom the 2004 Peanut Profitability Award for the Southwest region. The award, sponsored annually by Farm Press Publications, recognizes peanut farmers in the three primary production areas — the Southwest, the Southeast and the Virginia/Carolinas — for achieving efficient production over their entire peanut acreage.

“It's not just a yield contest where farmers can select a favorite field and submit it for consideration,” says Marshall Lamb, an economist with the USDA National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga. Lamb oversees the Peanut Profitability Award program and analyzes entries to determine per pound production costs.

Corporate sponsors

In addition to Farm Press, corporate sponsors include: Bayer CropScience (Folicur and Temik), Sipcam Agro, John Deere, U.S. Borax, Golden Peanut Co. and the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation.

Grissom, like most winners from each of the three regions for the past five years, cites rotation as a critical factor in maintaining high yields and efficient production. He rotates wheat, cotton and peanuts, usually planting one-third of an irrigation circle to each crop.

“We have pretty good water on most of our pivots,” Grissom says, “but if water is short, we water peanuts first and wet cotton if we can.”

He harvests wheat in early summer and lets that third of the field lay fallow. He plants cotton in the stubble the following spring.

“I have followed a rotation of two years in peanuts and two years out,” he says, “but I prefer the three-year cycle. Usually peanuts follow cotton and cotton goes behind wheat.”

He's also convinced that minimum tillage pays dividends with peanuts and cotton.

“Everything we have is minimum till,” he says. “One farm almost blew away last year because we didn't get it early enough to use minimum tillage. We had just bought the farm and had to plant conventionally.”

Wind protection

Grissom has been committed to reduced tillage systems for 10 years.

“Our biggest advantage is protection from wind damage,” he says. “But as high as fuel prices are this year, we'll save money by making fewer trips across the fields.”

He also saves on equipment and labor.

“When we first moved up here we had seven or eight tractors for 700 to 800 acres of peanuts. Now we get by with three big tractors.”

He uses two 12-row planters. “We can plant everything in about four and-a-half days,” he says.

Weed control is less labor-intensive as well. “We had to hoe some last year but not nearly as much as we used to,” he says.

He expects to spot spray herbicide as needed and makes one pass with a rolling cultivator to knock the wheat down.

He plants wheat as a cover crop and terminates with Roundup.

“We keep the fields clean. We grow seed peanuts so our fields have to be exceptionally clean to pass USDA inspections.”

For two years Grissom has killed the wheat cover crop, planted and then applied Prowl, two pints per acre. “We applied it through the irrigation system,” Grissom says. “It looks good so far.”

He says he and his brother Louis wondered about waiting to apply the herbicide. “We usually put herbicides out in March. But we sprayed the cover crop and got other weeds at the same time, so we didn't have any weeds when we planted.”

Last year they applied Prowl early and used gramox-one after planting to burn down weeds already up.

Grissom stretches water resources as far as possible without stressing his peanuts. He uses wobbler nozzles on fields with good water. “I prefer LEPA systems on fields with lighter water.”

He plants in a circle, following the pivot pattern to hold water on the soil and to reduce erosion potential.

He puts a balanced fertilizer out in the fall, when he breaks the land. He uses a moldboard plow and a land plane to level the soil and lift it.

“We break land in September and don't do anything else but water the cover crop until we plant.”

Disease pressure has been light. “As long as we rotate we shouldn't have much trouble with diseases,” Grissom says. “Last year we used an inoculant, Lift, and added Abound fungicide with it. That helps a lot on seedling disease control. We sprayed a little foliar fungicide last year. We also did a petiole analysis to test for nutrient needs and added a foliar fertilizer with a spray rig.”

Insects pose no problem. “I can't remember the last time I had to spray for insect pests,” he says.

He uses some calcium when he raises Virginia-type peanuts. “Calcium helps hold the peanuts on the vines and the dirt doesn't stick to them as much. Calcium makes the pegs harder.”

This year he's growing runner peanuts, all Flavor Runner.

Grissom says identifying a set of practices to assure efficient production is difficult. “We always walk a fine line,” he says. “We can't just stop doing something that works. We have to spend money sometimes to keep yields up. But we watch what we do closely. We're not stingy with the peanut crop; we give it what it needs.”

Grissom says he's usually satisfied with a 4,800- to 5,000-pound-per-acre yield. “But I plan for better than that. I always set my goal at 5,500 pounds.”

His best field last year produced 6,700 pounds per acre over 240 acres.

“I farmed that field with my father, Jimmy, and Louis.”

He says timing “is a big factor in growing peanuts out here.”

Grissom, Louis, and their father use the same consultant, Ron Henning, to advise on crop needs.

“Last fall, a lot of other farmers harvested peanuts a good 15 to 20 days before we did,” he says. “Ron kept telling us to wait another week. We didn't thresh any peanuts until Oct. 18.”

He says weather was ideal last fall and the crop filled out better because of those extra days.

Grissom uses a sandwich digger/inverter to improve peanut quality. The digger, instead of turning peanuts upside down to dry in the sun, puts one vine facing up and the next one facing down on top of the first.

“That way the peanuts are sandwiched between the vines,” Grissom explains. “The vines keep the pods from drying out too much and also protects them from an early frost.”

He says some buyers offer a $10 per ton premium for sandwich inverting.”

Last year was the first growing season since moving to Gaines County that the Grissoms split into totally separate operations. “We got to a point where financially we could go out on our own,” he says. “It's a good thing for all of us, but I miss them, too. We have one farm, a leased field that we can't split equitably, that we still farm together. We've always gotten along well, so farming together has been a good thing.”

Grissom says good help also contributes to efficiency. “I count on my son Jeramie, and I have an employee, Boone Alvidrez, who's been with me for years. I can depend on them to take care of the farm.”

Grissom, along with winners from the Southeast and Virginia/Carolinas area, will be honored at the annual Southern Peanut Farmers' Federation meeting July 22 in Panama City, Florida.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com