Not many peanut farmers welcomed the loss of the quota system and a guaranteed price for their crop, but Thackerville, Oklahoma, farmer Anthony Reed says losing that support made farmers rethink some production practices.
“Losing the program taught us to be better farmers,” Reed said. “We had to become more efficient.”
He explains that with the program in place he used to grow 300 acres of peanuts on his south central Oklahoma farm. Without the program, but with a better rotation system and improved technology, he makes almost as many peanuts on 70 acres as he did on 300.
That improved efficiency earned Reed the 2015 Peanut Profitability Award for the Southwest Region.
He and his wife, Karen, will accept the award July 25 during the annual Southern Peanut Growers Conference in Callaway Gardens, Georgia.
Reed says consistent rotation makes high yields possible. “Good rotation is the success of any peanut farmer,” he says. He follows a one-in-four year system, planting peanuts behind rye, which he grows for grain, hay and grazing for his 140-cow commercial cattle herd.
It’s proven a profitable combination for Reed who says cattle provides the most income with “peanuts a strong second and rye third.” He also raises watermelons for a few small grocery stores, local customers and “most for the peddler trade.”
He has a niche market for the rye, moving much of it into East Texas. “But I consider myself a peanut farmer,” he adds. “I was raised growing peanuts and I still enjoy watching the plants mature from seedlings to harvest.”
They do well in a grass rotation. “I get a lot of organic matter from the rye and a lot of phosphorus and potassium goes back into the soil. We could make one crop of peanuts without fertilizer, behind rye. My dad taught me that, but he was a better farmer than I am.”
He strip-tills peanuts in terminated rye grazed over the winter. “About 90 percent of what cattle eat, we get back on the soil,” he says. “It’s good for the cattle, good for the soil and good for peanuts.”
The one-in-four rotation also limits disease pressure. “I sometimes have to spray for leafspot and Southern blight but sclerotinia and limb rot are not factors.”
Strip-till has become almost a necessity with highly erodible, sandy soil. “We get a lot of wind here in the spring.”
Good varieties also improve production efficiency. Reed plants Red River Runner, a relatively new high oleic variety, and OL 11, also high oleic. He averaged 4,600 pounds per acre last year on the Red River Runners and 5,300 pounds on the OL 11.
“Red River Runner is a good peanut; OL 11 is a better peanut.” He says the lineage for each is similar but that OL 11 yields and grades a bit higher. Maturity is about the same.
He plants only high oleic varieties, as do most Southwest farmers who capitalize on the better market options for peanuts with a longer shelf life.
He plants half circles under two center pivot units. “Water has been okay. We’re able to irrigate as much as we need to.”
Weeds do well with adequate water, too, Reed says. “Are weeds becoming a worse problem? Yes and no. We are seeing more herbicide resistance but with the one-in-four rotation we’re able to apply herbicides we can’t use in peanuts and are able to control some of those weeds.”
He typically uses Roundup as a burndown on the rye two weeks before planting and applies Prowl H2O pre-plant. “I use a lot of Select for panicums.”
He also employs hoe hands to take out pigweeds. “Some of my hoe hands have come from the same family for years,” he says. “We also get some high school football players hoeing weeds late in the season. They want to adjust to the heat before practice starts.”
Keeping up with technology offers continuous challenges as Reed evaluates new chemicals and loses some old favorites. “Chemicals are getting better,” he adds, “and I try to stay current with new products, GPS and even a smartphone.”
He says his wife convinced him that he could master the intricacies of a smartphone and he’s now finding it useful. “The camera is good tool,” he says. “I can take photos of equipment for sale and send it out.”
Recording crop progress and problem spots is another option. “I’m just trying to stay up with technology.”
Reed credits his father for getting him started in farming and teaching him how to do it.
“My dad also grew watermelons and said he made more money from watermelons than he did peanuts, but he considered himself a peanut farmer. I make more money with cattle, but I consider myself a peanut farmer. I was raised growing peanuts and peanuts have been good to my family.”
His father, Chester, was growing peanuts back in the early ‘40s, during World War II. “He had four brothers in the war but he farmed and raised peanuts for the government. They needed peanut oil to make clean-burning diesel.”
Chester Reed was share-cropping in Gainesville, Texas, when Anthony was born, 1954. “I was number 11 of 12 children. Dad was a cotton and peanut farmer and one year made a good enough cotton crop to get together a down payment to buy the farm in Thackerville. Reed and two brothers later took over the farm. Both brothers are now deceased; the youngest, Tim, lost a battle with cancer just this past January.
Reed intends to keep the land in farm production.
“I’ve been through a few hard years, but, except for eight years serving as a county commissioner, I’ve never held an off-farm job. When I was 12 years old I told my dad that I wanted to farm. I always wanted to farm.”
Tim was never as devoted to farming but wanted to work with his brother anyway. “We worked it together.”
Today the farm would “sell for good money,” if Reed were remotely interested in selling. The property is close to a casino that rivals Las Vegas gambling halls, and land values have risen steeply as a result of the growth around the attraction.
“But as long as I’m alive and I’m here to look after it, this land will be farmed.” He says a son has an interest in moving back to the farm when he retires.
Reed takes little credit for what he’s accomplished on the farm, instead acknowledging contributions of his family, “other good farmers and the community for teaching me to work hard and to be responsible.
“Also, behind every good farmer is a good woman who is a good cook and has a good job with health insurance and a good income to tide us over in hard times. I give a lot of credit to my wife, God, family and my community.”
He also acknowledges his own responsibility for keeping the farm running. “You have got to be in the field as much as possible,” he says. “That’s as big a key as anything in agriculture.”
He says he’s learned from “better farmers than me. I like to listen to farmers who love what they do.
“But farming is not just a job. It is what I do. It’s certainly not about the money.”