Ricky Kneece produced the top yielding peanuts in South Carolina in 2006, but that's no surprise, he is a former, yield winner, a Peanut Profitability Award winner, and his office walls at the Kneece family farm headquarters are lined with production awards.
In 2006, he and his father, Delano Kneece, produced over 5,200 pounds per acre of Virginia-type peanuts on 278 acres to win the yield award. The keys to growing high yielding peanuts, he contends, are rotation, location and hard work required to do things on time.
At a time when many peanut growers have gone to three, or even two year rotations, Kneece steadfastly sticks to his four year rotation schedule for peanuts.
“We plant corn, followed by cotton, followed by corn, then peanuts. Then, we plant corn back behind the peanuts to take advantage of leftover nitrogen, plus it gives us more flexibility in what pesticides we can use,” Kneece says.
Rotation dictates how many acres of corn, cotton and peanuts will be planted on the farm. Despite the high price of corn and low price of cotton, Kneece believes in the long-run he will be more profitable sticking to the rotation, rather than increasing corn acreage to take advantage of high prices.
Rotation also helps keep fertilizer prices down, and at a time when prices for nitrogen and other crop nutrients are soaring, that is a big consideration. “We go by soil samples, but even if samples don't call for nitrogen, we typically put down 30 units per acre. We put down gypsum that has sulfur in it, which also helps,” Kneece says.
The South Carolina grower is also a stickler for timing. “We don't start planting peanuts before May 10. Every day, I record what I've planted, and we spray fungicides and herbicides on a precise schedule. The first application will be exactly at 35 days, never later, and only earlier, if rain is forecast. The next spray will be 14 days later, following the schedule developed by Jay Chapin, peanut specialist at Clemson University's Edisto Research and Education Center in nearby Blackville, S.C.
“Never being late with our fungicides is a big reason for our success with peanuts,” Kneece contends. We use Bravo in the first application, followed by Bravo plus Tilt, followed by Abound, followed by Folicur plus Bravo, then Abound, followed by Folicur and Bravo, if needed,” he explains.
In addition to staying on a strict timing of fungicide application, Kneece says using four different fungicides helps reduce the risk of developing resistance to any one of them. In addition, he has used Headline and other fungicides to fine-tune his overall fungicide program.
They have likewise never depended totally on glyphosate for weed control in cotton and have thus far avoided the resistance problems faced by cotton growers throughout the Southeast. “We put Dual and Gramoxone over-the-top on peanuts at the cracking stage. We will switch to Staple Plus, which is Staple, plus Roundup to get away from such heavy use of Dual, Kneece explains. We try to not use the same chemicals on different crops,” he adds.
Kneece grows all Virginia type peanuts, primarily NC-V11, though shellers have encouraged growers to grow other varieties. “We have grown Perry with similar results, but it is more prone to tomato spotted wilt virus. We've tried planting late, planting half and half with NC-V11, but still Perry has problems with TSWV,” Kneece says.
In tests in Virginia, Perry and several other peanut varieties had higher yield potential, and if disease was taken out of the production process, these varieties produced higher yield than NC-V11. However, once standard disease management practices were used, NC-V11 had the highest profitability among varieties tested, likely because of this variety's disease resistant qualities.
In 2007, Kneece says he will try to plant some Champs and some Brantley varieties, if seed is available. He stresses there is a need to get away from planting so many acres to NC-V11, but it's hard to leave a proven variety. Though Champs, which was developed by Virginia Tech peanut breeders and Brantley, which was developed by North Carolina State University, have performed well in university testing and limited farmer field use, how adaptable these varieties will be to South Carolina conditions remains to be seen.
In the past Kneece has grown Georgia Green and other runner varieties, but he figures the higher grades and higher prices for Virginia-type peanuts make these varieties more profitable on his farm. “We have one field that is 210 acres now, but was 187 acres when we planted Georgia Green there, and it averaged 5,600 pounds per acre,” Kneece says.
For some growers Georgia Green is a good option, according to Kneece, because they are easier to grow and more forgiving, if you are late with fungicide sprays. The runners seem to stay on the vine, if they are dug late. And, runners are easier to dig because you can see the row better, he adds.
Seeing the rows at digging is no problem for Kneece since he installed a John Deere Green Star GPS system and an RTK auto steer in his tractor. It saves a lot of time and makes digging much more efficient, Kneece says. “I feel like the auto steer saves us 300-350 pounds per acre.”
All their fields are within 2.5 miles of the headquarters building, so mounting the Green Star radio receiver on top of a grain bin at the site seemed like a good idea. It worked well, covering every field on the farm, until lightning struck it. Now, connectors are removed from the receiver when thunderstorms are likely, reducing the chance the system will be hit again.
Using the same row widths for corn, cotton and peanuts (38 inches) makes the guidance system even more versatile. It doesn't matter which crop is being planted or worked, the satellite system will keep the tractor on exact rows.
Though most of the peanut acreage in South Carolina has come into production since 2004, Kneece and his father Delano, have been planting peanuts for seven years. One of the keys to their success with the crop is their location in the state. They farm near Pelion, S.C., which is in the extreme southwest corner of the South Carolina Peanut Belt.
On the sandy soils that Kneece farms, peanuts, plus irrigation water make a good combination. “Typically, we put an inch and a half of irrigation water on our peanuts during really hot and dry conditions.”
Perhaps because of their location, combined with their long rotation schedule, insects and disease have not been a major problem for Kneece Farms. At a time when most growers are targeting 4,000 pounds per acre as a production goal, Kneece consistently produces 5,000 pounds per acre. In most of the seven years of growing peanuts, they have topped the 5,000 pound per acre level, he says.