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Virginia peanut grower's patience resulted in big crop

Capron, Va., grower Clarke Fox planted his peanuts on time the first week in May. Nearly six months later he dug a bumper crop he had all but written off earlier in the year.

In 2008 Fox, who farms Fox Hill Farms with his brother Cliff, upped the peanut acreage on their farm to take advantage of higher contract prices. “We planted on time, then just about everything went wrong,” Fox laughs.

“The whole growing season we were sweating bullets because of a lack of rain. By mid-August I would have sold my whole crop at 3,000 pounds per acre, if I could have done so,” he adds.

A rain in early August caused his drought stressed peanuts to set a small taproot crop, but not enough to restore his confidence in having a good yield. A late August rain set another big crop, he says.

On Sept. 20, he did a hull scrape test and the peanuts weren't even close to mature. Mid-September, he notes, is usually a ‘get serious’ time for peanut digging in southern Virginia.

He started digging peanuts on Oct. 6, which is late for Virginia peanuts, but early for the 2008 crop. “We danced around frost advisories, which delayed us for 10 days in one stretch and delayed digging some peanuts well into November,” the Virginia grower says.

Patience is a virtue, but not one many growers have, especially when it comes time to harvest a crop. “We waited, we watched the frost advisories and we dug when we felt like we had a long enough stretch of warm weather to get the crop out,” Fox recalls.

Most of the growers in and around the Suffolk, Va., area waited on their crops to mature and the wait paid off in virtually every case.

“I don't recommend leaving peanuts in the ground that long. We have never had a crop in the ground that long, but the weather conditions were just perfect to allow the plant to set a late crop and for that crop to mature,” Fox adds.

The Fox brothers planted 440 acres of peanuts in 2008 and though a couple of fields yielded in the 3,000 pound per acre ranges, some topped 5,500 pounds per acre. Overall the farm average should be over 4,000 pounds once all is said and done, he says.

“One factor contributing to the big, late crop was the extreme dry weather throughout the growing season. They had really good vines, the peanuts held on the vine well at picking, and we had a minimum of disease damage — all that related to the dry weather,” Fox contends.

Leafspot and web blotch were non-factors in the 2008 crop. In addition to using a comprehensive preventative program, the Fox brothers sprayed some of their peanuts with Omega for sclerotinia blight control. Omega is a great tool for Virginia growers, Fox says.

A four year rotation with peanuts is also a factor in getting such good results from late maturing peanuts. Some of the fields at Fox Hill Farms had never been planted to peanuts, which played a factor in the perfect storm that allowed for ultra-late harvest and near record high yields.

In addition to good yields, Fox says most growers in his area had good quality peanuts. Poor quality is often a result of delayed digging, but not for the unusual year in 2008. A few Virginia growers reported grades in the upper 40s, but the majority of the crop came in around 68 — the magic number for peanut grades and profits. Fox says most of his peanuts graded out in the high 60s and low 70s.

“We planted some of the VA 98R variety that didn't grade well. Perry, Gregory, and Champs did real well in 2008. We planted some NC-V11 that didn't do as well as the other varieties. Ironically, one of the latest peanuts dug was Champs, which is supposed to be a fairly early maturing variety,” Fox points out.

“We dug in three stages — early was too early, but we had to get started. Then, we dug a third of the crop in mid-October and about a third in early November. The latest peanuts we dug seem to be the highest grading,” Fox explains.

The frost advisory that is put out by Virginia Tech Extension was a life saver with the 2008 crop, Fox says. “They missed on the positive side a couple of times, but overall they were right on the money and that information was absolutely critical last year,” he stresses.

With a good peanut crop behind them, the Fox brothers say 2009 is still a puzzle. Peanut stocks are high, which traditionally means low prices. Input costs are still too high to offset lower peanut contract prices, they say.

“Last year we made our cropping decisions later than at any time since we've been farming. In 2009, we will probably be even later,” adds Cliff Fox. “Some input costs, particularly fertilizer costs have dropped some, but there is no guarantee these prices will stay at current levels. And, even at current levels many of the fertilizer blends used on peanuts still remain four times higher than two or three years ago,” he adds.

The swings in commodity prices are now comparable to the prices crops were sold for only a few years ago. A drop in corn prices of over $2 a bushel in recent months is nearly what they sold corn for just a few years back, Clarke Fox points out.

“We don't recommend leaving peanuts in the ground as long as we did in 2008, but in this crop in this year patience paid off for us,” he concludes.

TAGS: Peanuts
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