“We don’t like to use litter on our peanuts, because we can get into zinc problems, but we’ve found that by bumping our pH up to the 6.2 to 6.4 range we can get by with 3 tons per acre of litter, followed by a top-dress with conventional nitrogen,” he says.

Recent tests at the University of Georgia, in which lime was used to overcome the negative effects of long-term application of chicken litter on fields, support the North Carolina growers thinking on using litter for peanuts, and to some extent cotton, too.

However, once soil test zinc gets above 70 pounds per acre, raising pH to 6.5 or slightly higher may not solve the problem.

Murphy has relied on veteran North Carolina Crop Consultant Billy McLawhorn for many years to keep him aware of fertility problems on the farm. “If we get too high on our zinc, Billy lets us know,” Murphy says.

The North Carolina grower says wheat has always been a good performer on the farm, so making the decision to plant several hundred acres last fall wasn’t difficult.

The high prices ($7.50 per bushel) last fall made it even easier, but to compete with cotton prices comparable to the past few years, he says it was necessary to plan a double-crop with soybeans.

They planted most of their wheat behind peanuts, which gave them a little later planting date than optimum. Murphy says in past years that combination had paid off in higher wheat yields than when wheat is planted behind cotton or grain crops.

And, they planted the wheat with a spreader, which allowed them to get the crop planted quickly.

 “We started planting wheat on Nov. 1, when we put out litter. We ran an inline ripper to break the hardpan, and ran a coulter across the field one time to level the ground.

“Then, we spread the wheat with a conventional spreader and ran a minimum-tillage disk behind the planter to incorporate wheat into the soil,” Murphy says.

“Using that system, you can plant a lot of wheat in a short period of time,” he adds.

Murphy is among a number of North Carolina growers who planted a lot of wheat last fall. This year’s crop is expected be around 950,000 acres, but North Carolina Grain Growers Association President Dan Weathington says that number could be higher once all the grain is harvested.

North Carolina, like most Southeastern states is in a grain deficit situation and livestock producers are facing dire economic decisions, unless they can reduce the cost of buying and transporting grain feeds from the Midwest.

The willingness of grain buying companies in the Southeast to offer premium prices for locally grown grain, can make it economically enticing for growers to move toward grain crop production and away from more traditional cotton and peanuts.

Though their wheat crop looked great heading into harvest time and prices for both wheat and soybeans looked good, it’s still tough for long-time cotton growers like Audie Murphy to cut back on a crop that’s been so good for so long for so many farmers in the Tar Heel state.

rroberson@farmpress.com

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