With three uniquely different production regimes — from a “topographically challenging” dryland system, to one with a limited water irrigation regime concentrating on high-value acreage, to a soil and climate ideally suited to peanuts — the 2018 Farm Press Peanut Efficiency Award winners demonstrate the importance of adapting management to available resources.
The Farm Press Peanut Efficiency Award each year recognizes three growers who produce high yields at the lowest cost per acre in Southeast and Southwest regions. This year’s winners are Atwood “At” McIntosh, Upper Southeast Region; Jimmy Miller, Lower Southeast Region; and Mason Becker, Southwest Region. They will be honored at the annual Southern Peanut Growers Conference July 19-21 at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, Miramar Beach, Fla.
Each faces unique challenges, but they all follow the basic principles of high-yield peanut production: rotation, timely fungicide application, weed control, proper nutrition, and moisture management through irrigation timing or dryland production practices.
Here’s a quick look at the production basics of the 2018 winners.
UPPER SOUTHEAST STATES
Sound decisions, coupled with a disciplined four-year rotation, play key roles in Atwood “At” McIntosh’s high-yield, efficient peanut production system. McIntosh, 38, farms near Kingstree, S.C.
Wayne Nixon, Severn Peanut Company agronomist, says McIntosh was his only South Carolina client to break the 5,000-pound peanut yield barrier last year, with a yield of 5,100 lbs. per acre.
Disease control is a big factor. McIntosh made three 16 oz. applications of Bravo, two 8 oz. applications of Tebu, one 6 oz. application of Priaxor, and another 8 oz. application of Priaxor. He made one 10 oz. application of Provost.
Timing is crucial, he says. “I try to time it a day or two early if it looks like weather is coming. You’re supposed to apply fungicides in a 15-day window, but I’ll do 13 days if I think weather is coming.”
Eliminating volunteer peanuts is an important aspect of combatting diseases. “I try to take them out as soon as possible because they are disease hosts,” he says.
McIntosh’s neighbors don’t produce peanuts, so diseases aren’t transferred to his fields. Nevertheless, a good rotation is critical; he stays three years out of peanuts and rotates with corn and cotton.
“It’s a good rotation, but it keeps peanut acreage down,” he says. “Our land is better suited for peanuts than corn. But peanuts help the corn and cotton the following year. The nitrogen and straw from the peanuts help the cotton and corn.”
Strip tillage is another important practice. When they started producing peanuts back in 2004, McIntosh and his father, Irwin, used conventional bedding, but eight years ago they switched to strip tillage. “It helps manage weed pressure, reduces trips across the field, conserves moisture, and helps minimize erosion,” he says. “We don’t waste anything. We don’t go out there spraying just to be spraying. We scout to reduce trips across the field and use tank mixes.”
His sandy loam soil is well-drained and suited for peanuts. He grew all Virginias, Bailey and Sullivan, the last two years.
Weed management includes Roundup plus 2,4-D, Valor, Dual, Cadre, Gramoxone, and Storm. For insects, he makes an application of Thimet at the rate of 3.5 lbs. per acre. Nutrient management is also critical. For the first-time last year, McIntosh injected nitrogen through his irrigation system for cotton, corn, and peanuts. It worked well, and he is going to do it again this year.
He uses moisture sensors to determine when to irrigate. This year, he ran irrigation as soon as he planted to even up the stand and activate the herbicides. Last year, he irrigated about two-thirds of his peanuts; this year he plans to water about 75 percent of the crop.
He looks for 75 percent or greater in the dark brown or black category before he begins harvest. He’ll check the weather, and if the harvest window looks good, he’ll run the digger.
LOWER SOUTHEAST STATES
Jimmy Miller, Snead, Ala., produces high-yielding peanuts on “topographically challenging” dryland acres. He farms in partnership with his nephew, Lance, growing cotton and peanuts. Lance also manages four poultry houses.
Miller started growing peanuts in 1985, without quota. That made marketing a challenge, so he abandoned the crop for years. In 2009, well after the quota system ended, he got back in to peanuts, and in 2011 started growing high-oleic varieties exclusively, including Georgia-09B (70 acres) and Tufrunner 297 (18 acres).
He says peanuts provide an excellent rotation crop for his cotton and his soils. The Millers’ farm is 100 percent dryland, and average field size is about 20 acres. In 2017, peanuts averaged 6,824 lbs. per acre on 88 acres. The farm has a nine-year average of 4,724 lbs. per acre.
His typical peanut production program runs something like this: He spreads 2.5 tons of chicken litter per acre on cotton land a year before the land goes into peanuts. He disks fields. He likes to plant mid-May on 38-inch rows; he started planting last year in a twin-row pattern with seven inches between the twins.
He uses First-Up inoculant, one packet for about 10 acres. Fertility includes Perc Plus in-furrow. He applies some ammonia sulfate on peanut ground because he likes to get about 15 lbs. to the acre of sulfur. He also puts out a mix of 12.5-0-66-12.5, and applies 1 pint per acre of Full Bor four times a season, usually with a fungicide. He adds 60 units of potash per acre.
Insect control includes 10 oz. per acre of imidacloprid in-furrow, and 2 oz. per acre of Mustang Maxx, which includes a pyrethroid, broadcast behind the planter.
His fungicide program includes Abound in furrow at 6 oz. per acre, a mix of Bravo at 1 pint per acre and Onset at 8 oz. per acre twice in the season. He’ll put out three applications of a mix of Bravo at 1 pint and Elatus at 8 oz., three times.
Pre-emergence weed control includes Prowl H2O, one quart per acre; Valor SX, 2 oz.; and Strongarm at .45 oz. per acre. He applies Cadre at 3 oz. and 2,4-DB twice at one pint per acre, post-emergence. Crop rotation is two years in cotton, one in peanuts.
Miller’s worst peanut year was 2016, when a record drought from May through September limited rainfall to only 10 inches on his farm, compared to 33 inches for the same months in 2017. He lost about 500 lbs. per acre to hard ground during digging, but still averaged 4,600 lbs. per acre.
Miller says twin rows let plants cover the ground more quickly, an advantage in dryland, and that the practice added about 400 lbs. per acre in yields.
Texas peanut farmer Mason Becker admits “I thought I had it all figured out when I started farming — but I quickly learned how much I didn’t know.” The 32-year-old grows semi-irrigated peanuts and cotton in the sandy soils of western Terry County.
A fourth-generation farmer, he credits his father, Monty Henson, for much of his success. “He taught me everything I know.”
In 2017, Becker produced yields 20 percent higher than his average, and added a new market: organic Algrano236 Spanish peanuts. “Last year, I had 55 acres, and I netted more on those 55 acres than I did on 240 acres of the conventionals. The contract price was three times higher.”
On his conventional acres, he grows Sullivan, GA-11J, and Wynne Virginia-type varieties.
Organic production comes with unique challenges. The only way to control grass in organic peanuts is by hoeing — about every two weeks. “I probably had $100 per acre hoeing costs in those organic peanuts,” he says. “But with the price, I can afford to do it.”
Twin-row or double-row planting in organic acres helps weed control. “A quick canopy cover helps eliminate weed pressure.”
In conventional peanuts, on 40-inch centers, broadleaf pressure is an issue. “We put out Valor or a generic Valor product, and that’s as good control of broadleaf weeds as we’ve seen.”
Crop rotation “is extremely important, for soil health and for weed control. If you’re not switching crops, it’s a lot harder to switch chemistry and stay ahead of weed resistance. Peanuts are an excellent rotation crop for us.” He uses conventional tillage, rotating peanuts behind cotton. He deep-breaks peanut ground.
Becker is limited on inputs for organic peanuts. “Anything that’s not certified organic can’t be applied. So, we use compost, chicken litter, and fish oil for nitrogen nutrients.”
He improves irrigation efficiency by devoting more water to higher value crops like peanuts. “I’ll plant a higher value crop on fewer acres and devote our water to that area.”
He is expanding organic acreage this year, partnering with his brother and his brother’s brother-in-law, to purchase two CRP farms and transition those grass acres into two more circles of organic peanuts.
Switching from grass acres to organic acres is easier than switching from conventional to organic, Becker says. “I don’t think every farm is suitable for organic crops.”