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Texas peanut farmers will not hedge on production inputs

Southwest peanut farmers likely will not tinker with the idea of cutting input costs for 2007.

“The number one goal for our peanut growers is to maintain yield,” says Todd Baughman, Texas Extension agronomist and peanut specialist.

Baughman, who works out of the Vernon Research and Extension Center, says the key to keeping yields up is a three to four-year rotation program. “That's primarily a cotton, peanut rotation system,” he says.

“Our second priority is monitoring and maintaining irrigation well capacity and water quality,” he says. “We have to have adequate water to irrigate peanuts but we also have to have good water quality to push those yields.”

Baughman says quantity has a slim edge over quality, but not much. “We can make up for some quality with enough water,” he says, “but not to a great degree.”

He says water quality problems include salts and different ions. “Some areas have had problems with boron. We have a lot of information available about water quality issues.”

Growers interested in more information should contact their county Extension agents.

Baughman recommends growers test water to identify quality problems. Salt can cause big trouble.

“And if they don't test, farmers may not be aware of salt problems until late in the season. When they pull the wells down, around August, they may see peanut plant leaves begin to burn and the crop begin to go down. We have no fix for that except rainfall.”

Baughman says even if peanut producers get fairly high contract prices this year (still a question) they can expect market variability from year to year. “That's why it's essential to stay on a good rotation program and maintain yields and not lose profitability.”

He says two tons per acre, once the benchmark for profitability, may not be adequate to assure profit with increased production costs. “If a grower isn't hitting two tons, he's not making enough,” Baughman says. “But that 4,000 pound per acre goal is similar to two-bale irrigated cotton. Farmers need a little more now to make money.”

He says top peanut growers set 4,500 to 5,000 pounds per acre targets. Some aim even higher if they have adequate water.

“A lot of peanut farmers would consider 4,500 pounds per acre too little,” he says. “We have the varieties to make those yields.”

Texas acreage remains a question mark as farmers head into 2007. “Acreage will depend on contract offerings,” Baughman says. “I have a feeling that, even with a decent contract, we will not see a boom in peanut acreage. I expect we'll stay about where we were last year.”

Texas producers cut acreage by more than 40 percent in 2006 because of relatively low contract price offerings and increased production costs, primarily energy.

“I don't think we'll get back to our peak, more than 300,000 acres. We simply don't have the water resources available. We had over 100,000 acres of dryland peanuts at one time, too, and I don't expect to see that again either.”

Baughman says acreage could climb back to where it was two years ago, above 200,000 acres. “But it will take a contract price above $400 per ton to get there.”

Peanuts remain a viable crop option for West Texas farmers, however. “We still have an advantage over the Southeast because 90 percent of our acreage is irrigated, which negates the aflatoxin issue. We're also the primary source for high oleic peanuts.”

Baughman says even with some increase in disease infestation the past few years, disease management presents nothing near the expense incurred by Southeast farmers.

Tomato spotted wilt virus also has not posed a significant threat to West Texas peanuts. Observers find some TSWV but not at significant infestation levels. “Our primary thrips species is the Western flower thrips, which is not as good a vector as tobacco or onion thrips.”

Baughman doesn't expect peanut acreage to move north as cotton has done in the last decade. “We don't have runner varieties that will perform further north and we don't have current markets for expanded Spanish or Valencia acreage.”

He says a new peanut released recently from Texas A&M, Tamnut OL06, combines characteristics of Spanish and runner peanuts. “It's a Spanish peanut with seed characteristics similar to runners.”

Little seed will be available for 2007, he says.

Meantime, growers should concentrate on the varieties that have worked well for them and stick with the production techniques that promote high yields. “That still starts with rotation,” Baughman says.

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