Though he comes from five generations of farm families and had raised some hogs and cattle and grew a few acres of grain crops — mostly to feed his livestock, Britt Rowe had never been in farming big time, until 2005.

His first peanut crop was the championship entry into South Carolina Peanut Growers Association. On 245 acres, with about a 50/50 mix of dryland and irrigated Virginia type peanuts, Rowe produced nearly 4,500 pounds per acre.

Rowe grew up in the construction business and still operates a successful engineering company, but farming was in his bloodlines, so when a large acreage of farm land became available, he purchased the land, moved his family and his construction business to Lynchburg, S.C., and began farming in a big way.

“I rented the farm out the first year (2004),” Rowe recalls. “I met Eddie Watford, who had been in farming for a long time, and I knew his background, so I hired him to be my farm manager, and by hook or crook, we got ready to plant our first crop in 2005,” Rowe explains.

“We really didn't have any plans to grow peanuts. We were looking at corn, beans and grain. I got a flyer about a peanut meeting to be held by Clemson University, so I decided to attend. I figured I was going to have to buy equipment to get started farming, so might as well see what they had to say about peanuts,” he recalls.

From that meeting, the South Carolina grower got interested in peanuts. “I told Eddie to do what he needed to do, and I would support him 100 percent, Rowe laughs. Watford says it's a little bit funny now, but not so much back then, because he had never grown a crop of peanuts.

“Every time I found something on the Internet, I'd print it out and give it to Eddie. He was about ready to shoot me,” Rowe laughs. Eddie had been farming about 25 years, so he wasn't going into this thing totally blind. We took Jay Chapin's (Clemson University entomologist and peanut specialist) 10 Steps to Profitable Peanut Production, and pretty much went by the book,” the South Carolina grower says.

He notes that they hired Benson Atkinson, a cotton scout, to scout their peanuts, which seems like an odd arrangement, but worked out well. The cotton scout had never scouted peanuts, so he was interested in learning all he could and ended up spending a lot of time on our peanuts, Rowe says. “Benson was a big part of our success with that first crop of peanuts,” the South Carolina yield champion explains.

“We planted peanuts in a strip-tillage system, but we turned up a little dirt with our coulters to throw up a slight bed to give the rows a little definition,” Watford says. The 36-inch rows of VA-NC11 peanuts grew well, but neither farmer expected a record yield.

A few of the peanut acres had been planted to soybeans previously and that land was turn plowed in November and left to sit over the winter. Other peanuts were planted strip-tillage behind cotton and corn. Watford stresses that peanuts, had never been planted on any of the land. About 50 acres of the award winning crop was planted behind Coastal bermudagrass and strip-tilled into it.

Some of the peanuts were grown under irrigation and some on land that had never grown peanuts. The 245 acres of peanuts yielded just over 4,493 pounds per acre. The winning acreage, Rowe stresses, was the total farm acreage, which included both irrigated and dryland peanuts.

Dual and Valor were applied pre-emergence and Cadre and 2,4DB post emergence. “We got lucky because we applied the Valor after we planted, but got regular rain that activated the product, and weeds were never a big problem,” Watford notes.

Other than some minor problems with late leafspot and one small spot of CBR (cylindrocladium black rot), the first time peanut growers had little disease pressure, as was expected. “Our scout was on a learning curve with peanuts, so when he found anything that looked out of place, we were on the phone calling Jay Chapin or others at Clemson to determine what we had,” Rowe points out.

The South Carolina grower gives the credit for the record peanut crop to his farm manager, who in turn credits Rowe's innovative approach to farming as the key to producing a championship crop. “At harvest time, Eddie pulled a rabbit out of his hat,” Rowe recalls.

“We didn't get our plant growth regulator on early enough to allow us to differentiate rows for digging. From where I was sitting, it looked like the world was caving in, because you could look out over our peanut fields and it looked like an ocean. I was having these nightmares of 1,000 pound peanuts,” Rowe says with a grin on his face.

“Eddie just has a sixth sense about running a tractor on precise rows,” Rowe says. “Everybody had told us harvesting would be the toughest part of growing peanuts,” and it was Watford recalls. “We plant six rows and rigged a sprayer to spray 18 rows. We used the same row every time to spray, so you could see that row pretty good. When you go down the same row, you have 12 rows between you and having dug peanuts on one side helped the situation, but it was tough,” Watford recalls.

Digging was the toughest part, both farmers agree. Planting was a challenge, because the seed are so big that we ended up working too hard to get seed to the hopper. On long rows we had to fill up coming and going. It wasn't too stressful, it just took us longer than we thought it would to plant, they said.

“We just made a lot of decisions that worked out for us. For example, we dug the last 75 acres just ahead of 8-9 days of rainfall. We debated whether to dig or not, but it turned out to be the right one. It was one of our better fields, and it was tough to watch peanuts fall off when the combine hit them — we feel like we lost 400 pounds per acre in that field due to the late rainfall, but leaving the crop in the ground would have been much worse,” Rowe contends.

Rowe's 12 year old son, Harrison, who helped harvest the peanuts, says the ‘peanut bandits’ were the worst problem. “People would slip into our peanut field and pull green peanuts and take the whole plant with them,” he explains. Though not a big problem in terms of overall peanut yield, losing a half acre or so to peanut bandits, was clearly an eye-opening experience for the younger of the two Rowe farmers.

In addition to peanuts, they grew corn, soybeans and grain sorghum. This year, the South Carolina grower plans to grow some wheat and to try his hand at cotton. “We will plant about 350 acres of peanuts and put the rest primarily in grain crops, and we will plant some cotton on the irrigated land that we used last year to grow peanuts,” Watford explains.

Corn yields topped 120 bushels per acre, which is good for this area, Rowe says. And, 50-60 bushels per acre of grain sorghum was good. Soybeans looked good all year, but dry weather at the critical growth stage left them with a fraction of the yield they had expected from the crop.

Coming from five generations of Kansas farmers, Rowe maintains a hearty Midwestern work ethic, though he has lived in South Carolina since he was five years old. “I've always believed in the old adage about something worth doing is worth doing right,” he says.

“Britt doesn't do anything less than 110 percent, but going from nothing to a 1,500 acre farming operation is pretty amazing,” Watford stresses. “We are investing in irrigation and being sensible about buying used equipment,” Rowe adds. His engineering talents allow him to make some alterations to equipment that others might not consider. High on that list is a peanut dumper that he built from scrap iron and concrete.

Rowe adapted a 100 cow/calf operation he ran part time to his new farming operation. Though he now has a large acreage farm, not much pastureland is available, so he sold his brood cow herd and now buys cattle in the fall, fattens them on excess grain from the farm, and sells them in the spring. “It works well with our operation and we like looking at those cattle,” he adds.

“We are optimistic about this year. I hedged some on planting cotton, because of the extra cost of equipment. The gin will provide us with a module builder and we will adapt our peanut dump cart to use for a boll buggy and see how that works out. And, we will contract cotton pickers. We are still getting our feet wet, but we are optimistic about our farming operation,” Rowe says.

With the bar set high on peanuts, Rowe and Watford are optimistic that 2006 will be an equally good year. “We will plant about 350 acres of peanuts this year and try our hand at cotton, so we are hoping for 5,000 pound peanuts and three bale cotton,” Rowe says only half jokingly.

e-mail: rroberson@farmpress.com