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Grower sticks with system that worksGrower sticks with system that works

Roy Roberson 2

June 4, 2008

6 Min Read

Lynchburg, S.C., farmer Britt Rowe is the quintessential businessman, running a large farming operation and a successful construction business. In 2008, he expects a challenge when he plants peanuts on non-virgin peanut land.

Not opposed to a challenge, Rowe started his farming operation in 2005 and right out of the chute won the South Carolina Peanut Growers Championship with over 5,000 pounds of Virginia-type peanuts per acre.

In his first year, he grew 245 acres of peanuts and has increased his production up to 800 acres for 2008.

Last year he won the state's north division yield contest with a crop of peanuts he thought had been decimated by drought. Virtually all his peanuts in 2007 were planted on land with no irrigation. This year, he says with a smile, should be interesting, since about half the crop will be under irrigation and back on the land that topped 5,000 pounds per acre in 2005.

“We will stay with the same program that worked so well for us the first three cropping years for peanuts. We will use an innoculant and put five pounds of Temik in the row when we plant our peanuts to get them up and growing,” he says. Though the jury is still out on using innoculant on land previously planted to peanuts, he says he's sticking with the plan that worked so well for him his first year.

Rowe says he will use the same spray program, rotating different families of fungicides to reduce the risk of resistance to any one material. “We have had virtually no problem with the common diseases that plague long-term peanut growers — no tomato spotted wilt virus, no soil-borne disease problems. The leafspot program we use has given us good protection from both late and early leafspot,” Rowe adds.

The biggest problem, other than the drought, last year was with zinc toxicity in several fields. Even this, he says, was not widespread.

Zinc toxicity is a common problem in peanut production, especially in fields in which poultry litter is used for fertilizer.

Clemson University Peanut Specialist Jay Chapin says, “Peanuts are hypersensitive to high soil zinc levels. Levels of zinc that will kill peanuts have no effect on most crops.”

Sources of zinc found in soils include limestone, fertilizers, zinc-containing pesticides, burned tires, animal manure, bio-solids, and some industrial byproducts, in addition to naturally occurring minerals.

Once soils are contaminated with zinc, levels will remain high for a long time because annual crop removal of zinc is only between 0.10 and 0.15 pounds of zinc per acre per year, according to Chapin.

Rowe says he planted 200 acres of runner-type peanuts last year, but wasn't pleased with their performance. Over 80 percent of the peanuts grown in South Carolina are Virginia-types, with most of the runners being grown in the southern end of the state.

“We were expecting higher yields and lower input costs from the runners, but it didn't work out that way. I can't really put my finger on why the runners didn't perform as well as we expected, other than the drought,” Rowe says.

In 2008, he plans to plant 800 acres of NC-V11 and Champs peanuts. Nearly half of his 2008 crop will be irrigated and his dryland peanuts will still be on virgin peanut land.

“We feel like peanuts is a good crop for us to grow on our farm, and we are optimistic about the future,” the South Carolina grower says.

Corn, soybean and wheat prices are all good, yet Rowe says when he did a cost comparison of grain crops and the inputs needed to grow a crop, peanuts at $600 per ton was the best choice. He explains that at the time he did the comparison soybeans were at $9 per bushel, so the comparison is realistic.

Since he began farming in 2005, Rowe added 11 center pivot irrigation systems. He says having water has been a big part of any successes he has had in his brief farming career.

He also added a grain dryer and about 150,000 bushels storage capacity with two new grain bins. Having on-farm storage has been a big asset in his marketing strategy.

“Being in the construction business for a big part of my life has been a big help in our new farming operation. I have a good understanding of how equipment works, how much it costs to build and maintain it. Running the two businesses seems to work well together,” Rowe adds.

He points out that having a good labor pool is as critical to farming as it is in the constructions business. Having access to good labor in his construction business allows him to bring those people in to the farming operation during peak times and vice-versa during peak times in the construction business.

“We started out with 1,200 acres in our farming operation the first year, went to 2,000 acres the second year to 3,500 acres last year, and this year we will plant about 4,000 acres. And, we have had some growing pains, but through it all I see a bright future for farming,” Rowe says.

Rowe's farm is spread out over 150 square miles, often requiring moving 20 miles or more from one field to another. The high cost of diesel fuel doesn't help his bottom line, but isn't reason enough to park his equipment and rest on his laurels.

He improved efficiency of his tractors by adding a John Deere auto steer system that uses RTK satellite signals to produce repeatable efficiency to less than one-inch. Rowe says the auto guidance system was a tremendous help last year in digging his peanuts. Ideal harvest weather conditions, combined with use of GPS-based auto-steering equipment probably allowed him to increase harvest efficiency enough to add 200 or more pounds of peanuts per acre.

The GPS system also allows him to map his entire farm, and he has begun using variable rate application to increase the value of the high cost fertilizer used on the farm. “I don't think variable rate application necessarily saves on the amount of fertilizer you use, but it does allow you to make best use of it, Rowe says.

In addition to peanuts the South Carolina grower is planning to double-crop 1,600-1,700 acres of wheat and soybeans. He also plans to plant 1,200 acres of corn.

Diversification, he says, has been a big benefit in his farming operation. With grain prices good right now, he has some additional options for rotating his peanuts — options that actually make money.

At a time when too many farmers are getting out of the business, Britt Rowe says he's glad he got into it. “This farm started out to be a place to go hunting and raise a few cows, and it has turned into a place to go to work,” he says with a smile.

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