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Technology, organics add value to West Texas peanut operation

Blaine Nichols is not one to shy away from a new challenge.

He’s added precision farming to cotton acreage, along with reduced tillage systems, efficient irrigation and innovative spray technology. He uses some precision ag on his 450 acres of conventional peanuts.

So it’s not much of a stretch to consider a new wrinkle he hopes will increase overall profit potential for the Gaines County, Texas, farm: organic peanuts.

He added 120 acres of Spanish peanuts to his typical 450-acre runner crop this year and he’s maintained a strict organic production system.

“We plant, water and hoe,” Nichols says. “We use no fertilizer and no chemicals. We use a liquid inoculant (approved for organic production). We can see a significant difference in plants where a sprayer stopped up.”

He doubled inoculant rate on the Spanish, organic acreage compared to what he applies to runner peanuts grown conventionally. He says eliminating fertilizer makes for a leaner plant and he doesn’t expect yields to equal his conventional acreage.

“But we got a good contract on organic peanuts. We’ll probably try them again next year.”

Available new ground may be a limiting factor.

Nichols says continuous peanut production could cause problems. To qualify as organic, peanuts can’t follow a crop produced with conventional production methods. “We’ll probably run into disease problems with back-to-back-to-back peanuts,” he says.

He doesn’t have access to enough good acreage to plant organic peanuts on new land every year.

“I may try to plant a quarter-circle in peanuts and the rest in organic wheat,” he says. He already plants peanuts in stubble and he anticipates a good market for the organic wheat. “I also see dairies buying organic peanut hay for organic milk production.”

He’ll continue to rely on his 450 acres of conventional peanuts, Flavo-runners. “We’ve grown peanuts for a long time,” he says, “since I was little, back in the 1980s.”

Rotation, a four-year cycle, plays a key role in maintaining high yields, with goals as high as 7,000 pounds per acre.

He uses a full rate of Folicur in three separate applications in July, August and September to control diseases. “That’s good on rhizoc, but not as good on pythium,” he says. “I control leaf diseases and get some pod rot but I may sometimes need Ridomil.”

He’s had no sclerotinia so far. “A few farms in the area have had it and it’s bad farther west,” he says.

He rarely sprays for insects.

He plants into a cover crop that improves soil tilth and reduces potential for wind damage early in the season.

He plants in a reduced-tillage system. “I didn’t plow peanuts at all last year,” he says. “I cultivated some one time this summer.”

He’s also learned to use a sandwich digger to add value to his crop. Buyers pay a premium for peanuts dug with a sandwich digger, he says. “We had some trouble getting the diggers set but we talked to Jimbo Grissom, another Gaines County farmer, and he taught us how to set them.”


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