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Virginia grower fine-tuning operation

Henry Goodrich is a fifth generation Virginia farmer, a devoted family man, president of the Virginia Peanut Growers Association and a Lt. Colonel in the Virginia National Guard. He is bucking the trend of getting bigger and bigger, opting to get better and better with his farming operation.

He farms 100 acres of peanuts and 400 acres of corn and double-cropped wheat and soybeans. Opting for equipment rather than acreage and personnel, Goodrich farms entirely by himself.

Keeping his acreage small allows him to try new rotations. When many Virginia growers cut back or eliminated peanuts, he cut back a few acres in order to extend his rotation from three years to four.

Putting a second year of corn behind corn didn't work out for him, so he is now experimenting with double-crop corn behind wheat, forcing him to plant much of his corn crop in June.

Research in Virginia and western North Carolina suggests that corn can be planted from mid- to late-June with a reasonable opportunity for profit.

In the three-year study, a profitable yield was obtained by planting corn on June 15 in the first year.

In the second year, yield was low due to a drought that also affected yield from April and May.

Overall, June planted corn was comparable in yield and profitability to corn planted in April and May.

North Carolina State University Corn Specialist Ronnie Heiniger, says growers who plant corn in June should realize the risk of crop failure increases when corn is planted late.

In particular, two problems associated with late-planted corn must be addressed by careful management and in-season scouting if late-planted corn is to be a success.

First, there is a much greater chance that corn will be severely damaged by late generations of European corn borer and corn earworm.

The use of a Bt hybrid or field application of insecticide when corn reaches the V8 stage (waist high) is necessary to prevent economic loss or, in some cases, complete crop failure.

Second, there is an increased likelihood that corn will experience heat and drought stress in the two week period prior to silking. To minimize the chance of drought and/or heat effecting pollination and kernel number, planting date and hybrid maturity should be selected so that corn reaches silking stage in late July or early August when the chances of rain from tropical storms increase, Heiniger says.

Following wheat will require Goodrich to wait until early June to plant corn.

“One of our neighbors tried double-crop corn a few years back and did well with it. The good price of corn and wheat gives us good profit potential, plus improving our peanut rotation,” Goodrich explains.

“We have good soil for growing peanuts, but growing high yields of corn is a challenge. In our area 150 bushels of corn is big yield. I can irrigate most of my land, so I have some advantage to planting corn later behind wheat. With wheat prices so good, I want to plant as much wheat as I can, but I don't like soybeans in the rotation with peanuts,” he explains.

Growing more wheat produced an unexpected challenge for the Virginia grower this spring, when a sulfur deficiency left some of his crop yellowed. This began showing up about the same time as the record Easter freeze, but Goodrich was quick to determine the problem was not weather related.

“The sulfur deficiency came up because of changes in my crop rotations. I normally plant wheat behind peanuts, but I have reduced peanut acres a little the past few years and I doubled wheat acres this year in response to higher prices. This put much of my wheat behind corn, which I rarely did before.

“The plaster (gypsum) that we have to apply to Virginia type peanuts has a lot of sulfur, so wheat behind peanuts didn't need additional sulfur. The wheat behind corn started showing sulfur deficiency this spring after I had already applied my final nitrogen, so I had to go back and apply additional sulfur,” he says.

Despite a few unexpected challenges, the longer rotation will help in disease management on his peanuts, Goodrich says. When the quota system was in effect, he planted more acres to make his quota. Now, he plants slightly fewer acres, but has made a commitment to increase yields.

He grows for a local seed buyer who wants larger kernels for gourmet peanuts that he shells and cooks. To meet this market demand, Goodrich grows the Gregory variety.

Though not known for jumbo kernels, Perry is also screened for SXL. The rest of the crop, which now includes a few acres of Champs variety, goes for seed. Being smaller and having a local buyer for his peanuts provides him with some stability missing from other crops.

Timing is critical to peanut production and the Virginia grower approaches growing crops with the same military precision that has helped him advance to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army National Guard.

Sclerotinia has been a big problem in the past, but in the past few years, the combination of weather, new fungicides on the market and the expanded rotation have diminished the effect of Sclerotinia on his peanuts.

Virginia growers routinely use Vapam or similar soil sterilants to combat Cylindrocladium black rot (CBR) and other soilborne diseases. Getting Vapam applied properly can be a costly and time consuming proposition that peanut growers in other parts of the country don't face.

Some contend the biggest challenge of injecting Vapam (metam, sectagon) into the soil is timing. Goodrich says that may not be the biggest one. “It is probably choice of herbicides and application methods. It has been so long since I haven't used Vapam, that I forgot how much it changed my herbicide program.

“I used to incorporate some herbicides prior to planting and come back at cracking with additional herbicides. Bedding up the rows to inject Vapam makes it impractical to preplant incorporate (bedding would pull all of the chemicals out of the middles and concentrate them in the row),” he says.

“When I first started using Vapam, I made two surface applications, one right after bedding and one right after planting. I have since gone to one surface application between bedding and planting. I try to watch the weather and apply just prior to a rain to incorporate. This works well if the weather cooperates, but it is a little risky. All of my pre-emergence herbicides are applied in one trip. There is no room for error. A nozzle plugs or some other application error and I have problems all year.”

“I have changed herbicides a little to ones that work better surface applied. The biggest change was leaving out Vernam. That was a staple around here for nutsedge, but it must be incorporated. With the change to surface applied, I don't think Vernam is even on the market anymore. The newer herbicides work well with favorable weather conditions, but if we don't get a rain to incorporate them soon after application, we can have problems,” Goodrich says.

Planting and managing peanuts throughout the growing season is one challenge, getting them out of the field at harvest time is the biggest, he says.

Despite his diversification, peanuts are the mainstay of his farming operation. “I have a six row pull type combine that is more than big enough for my acreage. Being a one man operation, the most critical time is harvesting peanuts, and though some economists would say I am over-equipped for my acreage, it allows me to get peanuts out of the field when they are at the optimum stage for digging and picking,” he says.

As president of the Virginia Peanut Growers Association, Goodrich says he is more aware of the impact negative publicity can have on the industry. Despite being a one man farming operation, Goodrich refuses to let his farming demands take away from his duties in representing Virginia peanut farmers.

Preceding an afternoon departure for a recent trip to Washington, D.C., to represent his state's peanut growers, Goodrich put down about 80 percent of the Vapam needed on his peanuts. The day he returned, he put down the remaining 20 percent. All a part of his commitment to his profession, Goodrich concludes.

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