East Alabama farmer Eddie Segrest admits he's still learning when it comes to peanut production, but the results so far have been successful.
“We've been growing cotton behind cotton for years now on this land,” says Segrest, who farms with brothers Billy and Dickie in Macon County, Ala. “This past year was our first to plant cotton behind peanuts, and it worked out real well. We averaged about 200 pounds of lint more per acre than on our cotton where we didn't follow peanuts.”
This will mark the third year of peanut production for the Segrest brothers, who represent the fourth generation of their family farming just off Interstate 85 between Auburn and Montgomery, Ala. Their cropping plans for 2006 call for 1,600 acres of cotton and about 200 acres of peanuts. They also own and operate a gin in the area.
“Peanuts have been an excellent rotation option — we can't run corn through that cotton gin, so we thought we'd try a couple of hundred acres. We planted 240 acres in the first year and about 200 acres this past year,” says Segrest.
In the beginning, the plan was to plant peanuts only where they could be irrigated, he says. “That worked for the first year. But last year, we were able to irrigate only about 180 acres. This year, we'll be able to irrigate about 80 acres of peanuts and the remainder will be dryland,” he says.
Some of Segrest's peanuts this year will be planted in fields with high nematode counts. “We've had problems in our cotton with reniform nematodes — they seem to be becoming more severe in this area. We've done nematode sampling this year on some fields that were in peanuts two years ago, and we'll probably be applying Telone II in those fields. We've seen big improvements in cotton yields and grades where we've grown peanuts.
Our first year of peanuts averaged 2 tons per acre, and last year we averaged about 1,050 pounds of cotton on that same land,” he says.
Segrest irrigates about 850 acres of cropland with nine center pivots and three cable-tow systems, drawing water from rivers and ponds.
“We've always grown the Georgia Green peanut variety, and we might look at a few acres this year of a new, more disease-resistant variety. Since we're planting on relatively new ground for peanuts, we haven't had much of a problem with diseases. We haven't seen any yield loss yet from tomato spotted wilt virus. But we do follow a seven-spray schedule, using chlorothalanil for preventing and controlling leafspot disease. Peanuts have been a cost-efficient crop as far as controlling diseases,” he says.
Segrest admits he's still very much in the learning process as far as growing peanuts. “In the past, we've planted cotton in the dust and then waited for rainfall, but we've discovered that we can't do that with peanuts — you can't plant them in dry soil.
In our first year of peanut production, we averaged 3,600 pound per acre. Then, last year, we averaged about 3,100 pounds. It all depends on when and how the peanuts are dug and harvested,” he says.
He'll be installing a Case IH global positioning system this year to help him do a better job of laying out and planting peanut rows.
“When we go back in the field later to dig, the middle of the tractor will follow the path of the planter. We also purchased a wider disk harrow to help us lay off our rows. If you're off the row in digging peanuts, it'll add up and eventually affect your bottom line. The system also will hopefully help us with our cotton, but we don't know how significant that'll be.”
Segrest strip-tills both his cotton and peanuts, planting in 38-inch rows. “For peanuts, we've been taking a strip-till rig and turning the coulters so they'll throw up a little bed. Then, we'll come behind it with a rotary tiller with bed shakers, shaking a little bit of a bed with that and then planting.
“We've been planting strip-till for about 10 years. It's especially beneficial with rising fuel costs, as we don't have to make as many trips across the field. Our organic matter also has improved over time.”
Segrest's entire cotton crop is Roundup Ready. In peanuts, he uses a preplant herbicide and goes back with 2, 4-D. He also has used Gramoxone and Cadre in peanuts.
“The Roundup Ready system works well for us. We had problems with cotton grades until this past year, when grades were outstanding. I'm not sure how much of a factor weather has been. We probably won't plant any Roundup Ready Flex — it's too costly for the benefit our operation would receive from it.”
Segrest sells his peanuts to Birdsong in Newton, Ala. “If the farm bill had not been changed in 2000, we wouldn't be growing peanuts because we didn't have any quota. But we can't think about increasing our peanut acreage because of our labor situation. Peanuts are ready to harvest at the same time as cotton. While Dickie is digging and harvesting peanuts, I'm taking care of cotton, and Billy is running the gin.”
Getting into the business of growing peanuts can be expensive if you're not fortunate enough to find good used equipment, says Segrest.
“We were able to purchase a combine and a digger for less than $30,000. We had been to sales where combines were selling for much more. We use the same planter for cotton and peanuts, and that's one reason we won't be growing twin-row peanuts.”