In July, Farm Press will honor its 20th class of Peanut Efficiency Award (PEA) winners from the Southwest, Upper Southeast, Lower Southeast and this year, the Delta, at the Southern Peanut Growers Conference in Panama City, Fla.
PEA winners are nominated and chosen based on high yields produced at the lowest cost per acre. Program advisor for the award is Dr. Marshall Lamb, research leader with the National Peanut Research Laboratory at Dawson, Ga. Dr. Lamb has designed a measurement tool to be used by growers in determining production efficiency.
But before a new class of extraordinary peanut growers is recognized, Farm Press wants to reflect on previous PEA winners, beginning with the Southwest.
FIRST PEA WINNER
James Martin was Southwest’s first PEA winner, named in 2000. He had just completed a season he described as "a wreck," citing extreme heat, and prolonged drought as the two obstacles that caused a promising production season to fall apart in mid-summer.
The 2018 season played out much the same. Martin, who has slowly retired from farming over the last five years, says his son Glen Martin, and his two grandsons Aaron and Kirk, have taken over. And while drought and a depleting Ogallala Aquifer were a concern in 2000, they still top the list today.
“About 15 years ago, I began to see a depletion in the water and I told my family, ‘I don't know that I'll live to see it, but one of these days our particular area is going to go back to dryland cotton and livestock,’ and that's what's happening.”
Peanut acres on the Martin farms have fluctuated over the years based on available moisture and contract prices. They’ve grown Virginias and Georgias but mostly runners. “We increased our peanut acres for several years, especially when we were expanding our operation. Then, the Ogallala Aquifer started falling off. A lot of our land has ended up dryland but we still irrigate quite a bit,” James says.
In 2018, the Martins grew 120 acres of peanuts. In 2019, they’ll increase those acres to about 400. “We try not to plant any more than we can water,” says Glen, who calls his dad his hero. “We've gone to growing half circles of every crop. Very seldom do we have a field where we can run a full pivot. I mean we can, but sometimes it stretches it pretty thin and it seems not to do as well.”
Glen has continued what his father started, rotating cotton, peanuts and wheat. He says he loves growing peanuts but the lack of water limits how much they can grow. “They're really fun to grow and seem to do well in our soils. Plus, they’re a great rotation crop for cotton or wheat — whatever follows peanuts does well.”
Since his retirement, Glen says his father has assumed the role of landowner, but he says they still seek his father’s advice. “He's still involved. We often bounce things off of him. He always wants to know how it's going — he doesn't come out and tell us how to do it. He's a landlord, that's his job now. He's the best landlord we've got.”
When reflecting on his award, James says recalls telling Dr. Lamb, “I may not be the best one you ever run across, but I'll always be the first.”
Following James Martin, Southwest PEA winners were as follows: Neil Reimer, 2001; Chuck Rowland, 2002; Roger Neitsch, 2003; Jimbo Grissom, 2004; Rex Carr, 2005; Jim Davis, 2006; and Clint White, 2007, who is in the field strip-tilling next to his cotton stubble and applying an 8-inch deep band of fertilizer in preparation of the 2019 peanut crop.
As he did in 2007, White will plant Virginias and some runners but as he plants the 2019 crop, hopes are it will fare better than last year’s crop.
“About the last of September, when we started to dig, it started raining,” says White, who farms in Wilbarger County, Texas. “We got the first 60 acres dug and then it showered. We came back a few days later and dug again. It seemed like it lasted three weeks just to get that one field done.”
White says he thrashed peanuts past Thanksgiving. “We’ve never done that. We’ve always been done by the first week of November.”
While the moisture was helpful for digging, White, who’s been growing peanuts since the early 90s, says freezing weather also hurt his yields. “I had about 100 acres we had to dig after the freeze, which cut production in half. There wasn’t anything I could do about it — just take what I could make and go on.”
White, who was farming with his father Dan in 2007, now farms those acres with his son Colby. When Dan first introduced peanuts to the family farm, he started with about 10 to 15 acres, “to see if they were going to work,” says Clint. “Before peanuts, we were primarily irrigated alfalfa hay and then we slowly worked into where peanuts seemed like a good thing.”
On average, the Whites grow about 600 to 750 acres of peanuts. And Dan, at 82 years of age, who still farms some land on his own, is about to plant his 64th crop.
“He manages the water on those farms and my son and I take care of the rest.”
As Clint and his wife Amy, think about the future and their four grandchildren, Clint says if they choose to follow in his farming footsteps, “that’s great,” but if God has something else other than farming, “that’s what they need to do.”
Followed by Clint were winners: Otis Johnson, 2008; Weldon Shook, 2009; Rusty Strickland, 2010; Cornelius Enns, 2011; and Joe D. White, 2012.
In 2012, Joe D. White of Tillman County, Okla., said farming was all about timing: planting on time, irrigating on time, and spraying, plowing and harvesting on time. And while timing is still a priority for the 2011 PEA winner, he and his wife Gayle are just trying to figure out a way to stay in business due to the intensifying pressure from wild hogs and deer.
“The deer are worse than anything —a huge problem,” says Joe D. “I'm probably going to have the least amount of peanuts I've ever had because I can't do what I did this year. I’ve got to try something else.”
In addition to digging up the crops soon after they are planted, he says the deer and hogs also damage or destroy established crops when they run through them.
“The state of Oklahoma does a great job of trying to help. But it's getting to a point where you are going to have to high fence your grounds. It's something we're looking at. If it continues like this, we can't survive. We'll have to do something else, but we don't have a whole lot of options. The grain markets aren't good and the cotton market is probably going to have a lot of stress on it because of production.
“We need the peanuts,” he says.
Crop rotation has continued on a three-year cycle between cotton, corn and peanuts, along with minimum to no-tillage and some moldboard and conventional tillage when needed.
“With conventional tillage, the weeds are little easier to control. But the strip till/no till is probably my favorite. Every once in a while, you get so many weeds, you have to plow it and then put a yellow herbicide down. But the tillage works both directions,” says Joe D. “We've had good luck also with no-till/strip till with weeds — you’ve got to be on top of the weeds a little better than with the conventional. It's all about timing.”
In the past Joe D. says they’ve grown Jupiter peanuts, a large-seeded Virginia-type peanut. But due to the demand for Olé peanuts, a variety of peanut that’s packed with high amounts of a heart-healthy fatty acid called oleic acid and bred to have a longer shelf life, he says they may change varieties.
“The Virginias aren’t high in Ole’ but I think in another year or so, the technology will be there.”
Besides getting older, Joe D. says another change over the last eight years is having his son Austin return to the family farm fulltime. Austin farms on his own as well as helps his dad. Austin is engaged to be married this year. “We are real proud of them,” Joe D. says.
After Joe D, the Southwest winners were as follows: Murray Phillips, 2013; Guenther Farms, 2014; Anthony Reed, 2015; Rickey Bearden, 2016; Jake Teichroeb, 2017; and Mason Becker, 2018.
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