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Western Farmer Stockman

Profit drives management decisions on Clint White's peanut operation

Clint White figures the best reason to plant a peanut crop is to make a profit from it and not just to see how many pounds he can coax out of an acre.

That's not to say he skimps on the necessities or that he's satisfied with low yields. Most years he'll push 5,000 pounds per acre on the Wilbarger County, Texas, peanut, cotton and grain farm he operates with his father Dan. He follows a sound rotation practice, irrigates as needed, and controls weeds and diseases as necessary. But he limits production costs to what the crop will give back.

That frugal philosophy earned White the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award for 2007. He will accept the award at the annual Southern Peanut Farmers Federation annual meeting in Panama City, Florida.

“I don't try to make the highest yields,” White says. “I want to be profitable. We have to watch costs, especially fertilizer and energy the last few years. The key is to cut costs without sacrificing yield.”

He's cut back on tillage by using a disk bedder to prepare land in the fall, behind cotton. “That saves four trips across the fields,” he says.

He fertilizes his wheat crop and relies on the residual for peanuts and cotton. “I fertilize the wheat before planting and then I top-dress it,” he says. “I add very little fertilizer to peanuts.”

Water is the key, Dan says. They rotate with cotton and wheat and plant half circles to maximize water efficiency.

They harvest the wheat crop and plant cotton behind it. In the fall they use the disk bedder to prepare land for peanuts the following year. “We don't get two full years between peanut crops,” White says. “But we get two crops in. We'll have three crops within 13 months.”

Disease pressure has been low with that rotation system.

They concentrate available water on peanuts. “Peanuts keep us going,” White says. “We'll have about 760 acres of peanuts, mostly Virginias and some runners, this year.”

He wants to get one-and-a-half inch of water on peanuts every weak during the growing season. “One year we put in a center pivot in April, turned it on and then didn't shut it down until September. We had 2,400 hours on it.”

Having cotton under half the pivot helps. “I'll water peanuts two or three times more than I do cotton,” he says. “If I tried to make two-and-a-half bales of cotton per acre, I'd apply more water. But we plant late (after wheat harvest) so we water to make from one to one-and-a-quarter bales. We try to be efficient. About every third time I water peanuts I'll run across the cotton. We have to be efficient with water.”

They started out with hand-moved irrigation systems early on. They planted only about 10 acres of peanuts at first, back in 1986. As they added acreage, they switched to side row irrigation and then to pivots. They used Natural Resources Conservation Service funds through the environmental quality improvement program (EQIP) to upgrade to center pivots.

“We replaced the last side-row system with a 20-acre pivot,” White says. “We can water that in two-and-a-half days. It took seven-and-a-half with the side row system. Water efficiency is also much better with pivots.”

They didn't water as much as they wanted last year. “We had to cut back some because of a low water table. We didn't have to shut the wells off, but we did reduce the amount of water we used.”

They've changed seeding rate slightly over the years. “We started at 100 pounds per acre,” White says. “Now we're at 90 to 95 pounds per acre. We have planted as little as 72 pounds per acre and saw no yield difference. A lot depends on seed size.”

They use chemigation for much of their weed control. “We'll bed up cotton stalks after harvest and then chemigate with Prowl. We'll try Prowl H2O this year.”

They use Cadre when the peanuts are up, five weeks or so after planting. “That's worked well for us,” he says. “We might need 2,4-DB or butyrac for escaped morningglories. We may use some Select.”

Rotation with Roundup Ready cotton also helps control weeds and grasses. “We rarely have grass problems,” White says. “And we'll use shallow sweeps in the peanuts, maybe twice a season.”

They occasionally add guar to their rotation program and can have trouble with volunteer guar in a subsequent peanut crop. “We didn't use the moldboard plow one year where we had guar and we should have,” White says. “Volunteer guar is hard to manage.”

Disease pressure is rare. Clint says he sprayed 100 acres with Abound last year for pod rot but the season was so dry disease infection was not significant. “I sprayed once late for leaf spot,” Dan says. “We only had to spray about one-third of the acreage.”

They use Bravo and Tilt when necessary for leafspot.

Insect pressure heavy enough to require treatment is rare.

They divide acreage into Virginia type and runner type peanuts — 460 Virginias and 300 runners this year. “We spread harvest out that way,” White says. “We want to be done before the first freeze even though freeze damage has been rare. Once we start harvest, we keep moving.”

They usually finish in three weeks. Last year they stretched to five-and-a-half.

Dan does the digging with an eight-row digger. “We switched from four-row to eight last year,” he says. “I can dig twice as many acres. I can start on a half-circle and be done by dark.”

He says design of the new digger is also better.

They like to combine when peanuts dry to 14 percent to 18 percent moisture. “We may combine as high as 20 percent, depending on the weather forecast,” White says.

Clint combines 60 to 80 acres in a day. “When we first started growing peanuts we were a bit leery of digging ahead of a rain,” White says. “Now, we're more concerned about beating a freeze.”

They add value to their crop by baling and selling peanut hay. “We bale almost all our peanuts and can get as much as two tons of hay per acre,” White says. With hay stocks short the past two years they've gotten as much as $70 a ton for peanut hay. “It's good feed,” Dan says. “Hay pays drying costs. We consider the hay as gravy.”

They finished planting the 2007 crop around May 20, a little later than their usual goal of May 15. Rain delayed them a bit, but moisture conditions heading into this growing season were considerably better than last year.

“We haven't had too much rain this spring,” White says. “We'd get three-tenths of an inch and seven-tenths, but no heavy rainfalls. We had an inch or more in January and about two inches in February. We're in good shape, much better than last year.”

“We're about 75 percent better than in 2006,” Dan says. “We're close to normal water table levels.”

Clint and his father farm some acreage together and each has his own. But they work together on a regular basis.

The farm has been in the family for generations. “My great grandfather came in 1890,” Dan says. “Ranchers settled back then where the grass was as high as a man on horseback. They were looking for grazing land.”

“But peanuts do well in this sandy land,” White says.

Clint and his wife Amy have four children, Colby, 16; Kaylee, 14; Kelsey, 7; and Carli, 3.

The family is active in the First Baptist Church of Vernon and Clint is president of the Northside School Board and chairman of the Wilbarger County Soil and Water Conservation district. He's also involved with the Wilbarger Farm Bureau and the Junior Livestock show.

“We have been blessed,” he says.

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