Dennis and Katrine Spruill know that to succeed in farming today, you can’t go it alone: you need good help and support of good people along the way to get the job done.
Dennis has been farming fulltime near Como, North Carolina since graduating from high school in 1978. Wife Katrine has farmed with him since they were married in 1981. Son Denton, 32, has been a part of the operation for 10 years now. The family farms land in both Hertford County, North Carolina and across the state line in Southampton County, Virginia.
The Spruills have one full-time worker, Patrick Edwards, who has worked with the family since 2015. Importantly, the Spruills rely on Harrell Agronomic Service Inc. crop consultant Chad Harrell to scout, determine when to dig their peanuts and help manage input selections.
At harvest, the Spruills say they are fortunate because neighbors step up to help them harvest both peanuts and cotton, which can be a real juggling act. They also work with their neighbor Stewart Drake. The Spruills harvest his cotton because he doesn’t own a cotton picker and he helps them pick peanuts, which helps with efficiency because there is one more harvester working the land.
Denton does most of the spraying on the farm while Patrick does much of the planting. Dennis will dig the peanuts while Katrine serves as runner, making sure everything is going smoothly. “For everything else, we all do a little bit of everything,” Dennis says.
It all works out. The Spruills say they are blessed, enjoying success in farming over the years. Moreover, Dennis and Katrine Spruill are known as efficient producers; they emphasize the importance of making sure each expense offers a return on investment while doing all they can to build yields.
EFFICIENCY AND INNOVATION
Due to his success as both efficient and innovative peanut farmer, Dennis Spruill is the 2019 Peanut Efficiency Award Winner for the Upper Southeast. Spruill emphasizes that managing expenses is an important key to efficiency, but he says better peanut varieties and the better crop protection products that are now available are vital to his success.
“Diseases aren’t a problem for us like they used to be. Chemicals are so much better now. That makes a big difference. We’re spraying less fungicide treatments than we did years ago which helps in savings,” Dennis says.
“We do have to spray Omega for Sclerotinia. That’s our biggest disease problem. We don’t have to spray anything for CBR (Cylindrocladium black rot). Better varieties and longer rotations have really helped with disease pressure. We switched from two to three-year rotations to four to five-year rotations. That made a big difference,” he adds.
When he can, Spruill says he does shift to generic chemicals to help control costs. He notes that Harrell, his consultant, is a big help in determining his chemical lineup each year. Emphasizing efficiency in sprays for weed control is important.
Palmer amaranth is a problem on some of his newer rented land, but in his older, Palmer is pretty much under control. “Mare’s tail is a challenge for us, but we take care of Mare’s tail with a burndown in the spring of 2,4-D and Roundup,” Dennis says.
The Spruills apply 125 pounds of Potash 60 percent at planting and use an inoculant on every peanut acre planted. “We come behind the planter with Valor and Dual and Gramoxone. Most of our land holds phosphorous pretty well. In our lighter soils, we do lose more potash,” Spruill says.
He likes to use a starter spray of Cadre and Butyrac and then make a touch up herbicide application of SelectMax. “We don’t incorporate anything preplant. We apply everything on top after our peanuts are planted,” Spruill explains.
Spruill says they have been fortunate over the past few years because spider mites haven’t been a problem. They use Orthene to control thrips and because of longer rotations, nematodes aren’t a problem.
LATER PLANTING DATE
One key to efficiency for the Spruill family is a later planting date. “We used to plant the first week in April. Now we are planting later, beginning on the 10th of May. The later planting date really helps with our tomato spotted wilt virus,” he says.
Without a doubt, better varieties are a big plus. The Spruills plant mostly Baileys but do plant 75 acres of Sullivan for seed. The seed peanuts take more management, but Spruill says they earn $25 per ton more for seed peanuts, which is a big help. They say they plant all Virginia-type varieties because that’s what their customers want.
“Peanut varieties are the best they’ve ever been,” he says. “We’re now averaging 5,000 per acre. We used to hope to get 4,000 pounds.”
This year, the Spruills are growing 350 acres of peanuts for Severn Peanut, and Sandy Land. In total, the family farms 1,700 acres. In addition to their 350 acres of peanuts, the family planted 660 acres of cotton, 240 acres of corn and 400 acres of soybeans this year.
One important key to efficiency for the Spruills is using strip tillage on their sandier land which saves on trips across the field. For their heavier land, they use beds. For their strip tilled peanuts, they use a cover crop of peanuts which Spruill says also helps with thrip pressure.
When it comes to timely digging and harvest, Spruill turns to consultant Harrell who pulls samples and does the pod blasting for the family. “We certainly watch the weather and like to leave our peanuts in the field to dry as much as we can. This really saves on our drying bill,” Spruill says.
The family uses two four-row Amadas harvesters in addition to an Amadas harvester run by neighbor Stewart Drake. For cotton, they use two cotton pickers and also help Stewart harvest his cotton since he doesn’t own a picker.
“This really works well for both us and him,” Katrine says.
At harvest, the family no longer uses drying wagons which has also increased their efficiency. “Severn and Sandy Land do all of our drying now. It’s wonderful. It saves a lot of time and running around and we don’t need as much help at harvest or have to worry about flat tires when going down the road,” Katrine says.
Both Dennis and Katrine point out that the greatest blessing at harvest is the willingness of neighbors to help. “Picking cotton and peanuts takes many people. We still use baskets for picking cotton, not a baler picker, so we really need the help,” Dennis says.
This year, for the first time, the family is using RTK (Real-time Kinematic positioning) at planting and harvest. Dennis believes it will also improve their efficiency. “Hopefully, it will help us improve on our digging this year. It did help with our planting. There’s a real steep learning curve, and RTK is expensive, hopefully it will pay,” he says.
One thing is certain, Dennis stresses, is that good weather at digging and harvest over the past few years has really helped in terms of both yield and quality. “We were blessed,” he says. “You can grow the best crop in the world, but if you can’t save it, you will lose everything.”
STICKING TO PEANUTS
Dennis has always grown peanuts as did his father and grandfather before him. He says he plans to stick with the crop because his land is well suited for peanuts. He is always looking for ways to improve and increase efficiency every step of the way.
“We want to do what needs to be done to manage our input costs. We cut out unnecessary costs and our consultant really helps us with that. Strip tilled peanuts are cheaper to plant than bedded peanuts so that saves on trips across the fields which helps us control costs. We have different options in terms of chemicals, and we don’t go overboard. That really helps on expenses. It works for us,” Dennis says.
In addition to son Denton, Dennis and Katrine have a daughter, Shirley Lee Rountree, who works as a loan officer for Ag Carolina in Ahoskie. Shirley and husband Eric Rountree have a one-year old daughter, Addison.
“She’s a beautiful granddaughter. She’s precious. But we are biased,” Katrine says with a smile.
Dennis is active in the peanut industry. He is past president, past secretary and serves on the board of the North Carolina Peanut Growers Association. He’s also on the board of Hertford County Farm Bureau and is a retired volunteer fireman. He and Katrine are members of Buck Horn Baptist Church.
Through it all, both Dennis and Katrine say they are honored to be recognized with the Peanut Efficiency Award. “We are really blessed to live in an area that allows us to raise peanuts, with high yields and efficiency,” Dennis says.