Since its inception the South Carolina Peanut Yield Championship has been won by Delano Kneece Farms in Pelion, S.C. 

Winning the award has become something of a family tradition for Delano Kneece, his son Ricky Kneece and his grandson Kane Kneece.

The Kneece family has won the South Carolina yield championship five of the past six years. The only year they didn’t win it, they finished second behind state champion Britt Rowe, who farms near Lynchburg, S.C.

They started growing peanuts before the peanut program was ended. Then, few people were interested in growing peanuts in the Palmetto state. Now, South Carolina peanut growers are pushing 75,000 acres and pushing Florida and neighboring North Carolina for second place in the Southeast in acres planted.

Competition for the state yield championship is getting increasingly competitive, but that’s not a concern for the Kneece family. Winning the championship, says Ricky Kneece, isn’t nearly as important as making more than two tons of peanuts per acre.

Kane Kneece says they try to use the same production practices on soybeans and other crops, but they just don’t have the right soils and growing conditions to produce award winning crops.

“We try, but so far peanuts seem to be the right recipe for high yields,” he says.

It all starts with the right variety. “Since we’ve been growing peanuts, we’ve been fortunate to have a great peanut program at the Edisto Research Center. Jay Chapin and James Thomas have done a great job of getting us information on top producing varieties in our part of the state,” Kneece says.

“We take their advice on varieties, but we also grow a few acres of any variety before we go big with it,” he adds. This year they planted Bailey and Sugg, two new varieties from North Carolina State’s breeding program.

Whether they will once again claim the state yield championship remains to be seen.

All their peanut land is irrigated and is a little on the sandy, lighter side. They typically choose varieties based on performance under similar conditions, then fit the amount of each variety under a pivot. “Getting the amount we needed of the new varieties was a little tough, but we got what we needed to plant this year,” Kneece says.

Another key to their long-term success with peanuts is a long rotation that includes corn, followed by cotton, followed by corn, then planted to peanuts. Following the rotation the South Carolina grower says has been better for them than planting based on commodity prices.

Production practices

In the past they started in peanuts in the late summer or early fall by bush-hogging their corn stalks. Last year they bought a Turbo Till machine that they run on an angle, do no disking, and then take soil samples. Once they get the soil analysis back, they put out lime and run a Worksaver TerraMax or Bigham Brothers  Para-till plow at an angle across the field.

The TerraMax  leaves all the litter on top of the soil. Then they come behind it with a no-till grain drill and plant 1.5 bushels per acres. Wheat is drilled in at an opposite angle to the pattern in which they ran the Para-till machine.

“We feel using these opposite angles with deep tillage levels the land up better than we’ve done in the past,” Kneece says. Once the land is smooth, they come back a month before peanut planting in the spring and apply lime based on their soil samples.

The TerraMax and Para-till actually lift thesoil and then drop it as they are pulled through the field. This action shatters hardpanssimilar to dropping concrete, effectively loosening soil above the shanksor wings.

This type of hardpan shattering will last longer than the furrow-type done by

conventional shanks and allows crop roots to more effectively "search" the profile for water and nutrients after use of these winged plows.

Though they have had a long history of top yielding peanut crops, they constantly tweak their production system, looking for another few pounds per acre.

Last year they started using grid sampling in hopes of improving the cost and efficacy of their fertilizer program.

They apply fertilizer a month or so ahead of planting to give it time to break down in their sandier soils. Then, they burn everything down with glyphosate or other burndown herbicides and come back and plant peanuts.

Kneece jokes that high wheat prices tempted him to let his wheat cover crop mature this year. “We need the cover crop to keep our sandy soils from blowing and we feel like with the cover on the ground, we don’t have as many weeds to deal with in the spring,” he explains.

The South Carolina grower says he follows his father’s (Delano Kneece) advice when it comes to nitrogen rates. “My dad did custom application for years for two long-time peanut growers, and they always applied 30 units of nitrogen in front of peanuts. The reasoning is it helps break down organic matter and it gives peanuts a little better chance of getting out of the ground quickly,” he says.

He also says grid sampling will allow him to be more precise on the amount of potash and phosphorous on their sandy soils. “We look at the nitrogen profiles on the grid sampling, but sticking close to that 30 units per acre has worked out too well for us to change,” Kneece says.

Prior to planting they apply a locally produced gypsum on their peanut land. Kneece says applying a little extra (1.25 versus 1 ton) gypsum is a little thing that helps increase his peanut yields.

Seeding rate critical

The South Carolina grower plants on 38-inch rows. Using the newer varieties has forced him to re-think how many pounds of seed peanut he plants per acre. It’s critical, Kneece says, to end up with no more than six and no fewer than five seed per row foot.

“When we were planting NC-V11 peanuts we planted 120 pounds per acre. With Champs, we upped that to 140 pounds per acre. The new varieties give us a lot better disease resistance package, but it does change slightly how you grow these peanuts,” he adds.

This year he started his fungicide program 35 days after planting with an application of Bravo. He came back on these peanuts 14 days later with a tank-mix of Bravo-Tilt. The third application, also 14 days later, he used Abound.

With his fourth fungicide application he applied 7 ounces of Headline and a pint of Folicur.

His fifth fungicide application was a pint of Abound, and his last application, applied on Aug. 26, using 7 ounces of Headline and a pint of folicur.

The 2011 season was unusual, Kneece says, in that there was very little tomato spotted wilt virus and white mold in his fields. Hot weather, he contends, stopped these diseases cold. His biggest disease threat this growing season was leafspot, he adds.

The South Carolina grower says losing Temik created some challenges for him. “I attribute a part of our high yields to Temik. We use about 6 pounds per acre, and it has really made a difference. This year we could only get enough Temik to treat half our peanut land. We used Thimet, and had some help from our Helena dealer to calibrate our sprayer just right, and it worked out fine,” Kneece says.

Kneece doesn’t apply any herbicide at planting, waiting until cracking or after-cracking to spray 1.3 pints of Dual Magnum and 10 ounces of ENC, a Helena product, instead of Basagran for a safener. 

“After I sprayed one field, I rode by it and I just knew I had burned the peanuts bad enough to affect yield. But after a few days, the peanuts seemed to come back quicker than when we used Basagran for a safener,” the South Carolina grower says.

“This year we came back with Blazer on part of our peanuts and Storm on another part.” He used 12 ounces of 2,4-DB with the Blazer-Storm application, and the butyrac in the mix seemed to really knock the escaped weeds for a loop.”

In some places he came back with Poast for fall panicum. “The combinations did a real good job on weeds this year. With the hot weather in the mix, I think we did a better job on weed control than we have in the past few years, he says.

How much water to apply and when to irrigate peanuts is always an issue? “We normally apply three fourths-inch of water twice a week. This year, it was clear cotton, corn and peanuts all needed more water. Keeping corn going during the critical growth stage, forced us to use less water (one half-inch).”

“Dryland peanuts were noticeably smaller and clearly not as productive as those under the pivot. Weed control was much better under the pivots, so the difference in yield will likely be significant on peanuts that are on dryland versus under irrigation,” he adds.

“It takes about two days for a 120 acre pivot to apply three fourths-inch of water. I could go to the field where it had been watered for two days, and there was very little moisture.  Having irrigation helped with both the drought and by cooling down the crops. I don’t see how dryland crops made it this year,” Kneece says.

rroberson@farmpress.com