EDITOR’S NOTE — Organizers of the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award have reviewed production data from previous winners to arrive at a “Top 10 Keys to Peanut Profitability.” This list of successful production practices is being presented in descending order in Southeast Farm Press and on this website, with sponsorship provided by DuPont Crop Protection. The Peanut Profitability Awards, based on production efficiency in whole-farm situations, is entering its 13th year and is administered by Marshall Lamb, research director for the National Peanut Research Laboratory, and his staff.

Coming in at No. 6 and No. 5, respectively, in the “Top 10 Keys to Peanut Profitability” are cost management and efficient water use.

No. 6: Cost management

Cost management is a broad term that could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but in peanut production, it focuses on two specific areas.

“In peanut production, we’re dealing with two aspects of cost management – variable costs and fixed costs,” says Marshall Lamb, research director with the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga., and advisor for the Peanut Profitability Awards.

“With variable costs, we’re talking about things such as seed, chemicals, irrigation and others. There’s not always a lot of room to make reductions in these areas because a good farmer will follow whatever recommendations are necessary to make a crop.

“In a year when there’s a pest outbreak, they have to use more chemicals, and whenever there’s a drought, they have to irrigate more.”

Farmers have seen inflationary pressure on all costs during the history of Peanut Profitability, says Lamb, resulting in a steady increase in cost of production. These costs have especially been driven by fuel costs.

As for fixed costs, however, farmers have more control.

Fixed equipment costs

“The one thing farmers can manage is their fixed or equipment costs, and our Peanut Profitability winners have always done an outstanding job of that. In 13 years of collecting data for this program, our winners always do an excellent job of managing fixed costs — they maintain low fixed costs and a low overhead,” says Lamb.

In fact, he adds, there have been at least two years when the award winner was decided by the amount of fixed costs.

The equipment side of fixed costs is a balancing act, says Lamb.

“It’s important for farmers to have modern equipment so that it’ll be more efficient than older equipment, but they need to balance that need against having too much overhead in new equipment costs.

“If their equipment is old or worn out, then it’ll be inefficient, and it’ll end up costing the farmer in the long-run as far as repairs and lost time in the field.”

Also, most peanut producers now use GPS for more efficient planting and digging, says Lamb.

The National Peanut Research Laboratory works with farmers on a daily basis, says Staci Ingram, technician with the lab, to match equipment to the needs of their individual farms.

“If they buy new equipment, we want to help them ensure they have enough acreage to justify the cost,” says Ingram.

This same principle is applied to irrigation, she says. “By following an irrigation scheduling program, farmers don’t water more than is needed, and they don’t spend more money irrigating than is necessary. Irrigation scheduling helps growers meet the physiological needs of the crop in an efficient way.”

No. 5: Efficient water use

During a time of restricted water use and multi-year droughts, it’s not enough anymore to simply water your peanut crop — you have to irrigate with precision and efficiency, and irrigation scheduling has become a common practice of winners of the Peanut Profitability Award, says Lamb.

Many Peanut Profitability winners have relied on Irrigator Pro, a computerized expert system designed to provide irrigation scheduling recommendations based on scientific data, resulting in conservation-minded irrigation management.

Irrigator Pro for Peanuts — designed and maintained by the staff at the National Peanut Research Laboratory — manages peanut irrigation and pest management decisions, says Lamb.

“The objective is to improve economic returns for irrigated peanut production and reduce risk associated with aflatoxin, foreign material, immaturity, off-flavor, chemical residues and negative environmental impacts,” he says.

Irrigation recommendations are based on more than 20 years of scientific research data and information.

To begin, growers enter field data, including planting date, variety planted, previous crop, soil type and irrigation capacity. Then, they place a digital minimum/maximum soil thermometer in the field, in the row, a few weeks after the crop has emerged.

They also place a rain gauge in this same area as well as outside the pivot to record rainfall.

The grower then marks the sensors in the field with flags because they will be difficult to find later in the season.

Procedure outlined

“They begin by taking soil temperature readings a couple of times per week and ask for the recommendation which will advise if and how much to irrigate or when to check soil temperatures again.

Generally, irrigation recommendations are made to maintain soil temperatures and water in the optimum ranges,” says Lamb.

The program generates graphs showing your data in relation to optimum and minimum zones, helping you diagnose problems that may occur.

Irrigator Pro for peanuts has been extensively evaluated and validated in replicated research plots as well as commercial trials with cooperating farmers, says Lamb.

Yield increases of more than 300 pounds per acre and 2 percentage point increases in Sound Mature Kernels and Sound Splits have been demonstrated.

The success of Irrigator Pro for peanuts created interest from other groups, resulting in comparable models for cotton and corn.

Recommendations for these crops are based on the physiological needs of the plant during different stages of growth and development. These models differ from the peanut model by requiring the use of soil moisture sensors.

Growers are asked to follow manufacturers’ preparation and installation recommendations that accompany their sensors, test them, and then install at depths of 8, 16 and 24 inches, in the row, after the crop has emerged.

Producers then record rainfall events from the day of planting until sensors are installed and readings are entered. Data specific to each field is required such as soil type and irrigation capacity.

To begin entering data, growers simply enter farm information, then individual fields, and the data for those fields as it occurs. When sensor readings are entered, recommendations can be retrieved advising if and/or when to irrigate, an amount, and when to check the sensors again.

A comment section is also included for any information you may want to reference later in the season.

For information on how to obtain any of the Irrigator Pro irrigation scheduling programs, contact Staci Ingram with the National Peanut Research Laboratory at 229-995-7400.

(The introductory article to the Top 10 Keys can be found here. Keys No. 10 and No. 9 can be found by clicking here. Keys No. 8 and No. 7 can be found at Reduced-tillage, precision farming two more keys to peanut profits).

phollis@farmpress.com