Drake Perrow is a crop consultant and farmer whose family roots run deeper into the South Carolina soil than virtually anyone in the state.

When he talks about agriculture, people tend to listen, and he says despite many weather related problems for growers in 2011, peanut acreage in the state will likely increase next year.

His family measures how long they have been farming in centuries, rather than years. He and his family still farm some of the original land issued to family farmers as part of a land-grant from the King of England back in 1764.

The Perrow family is involved in a cotton gin and a peanut buying company in addition to a large cotton and peanut farming operation in and around Cameron, S.C. 

In addition to his farming operation, Perrow is a highly sought after crop consultant — a job he says has been a tough one this past year.

The 2011 crop year will be one for the record books. For starters, the spring and summer of 2011 has been documented as the hottest on record.

A lack of moisture, followed by hot, dry weather at planting played havoc with getting seed in the  ground and plants out of the ground.

Hot daytime and nighttime temperatures will likely have an adverse affect on yield and quality of crops.

Even though Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee produced amillion dollar rainfall for some parts of the Carolinas, the Calhoun County farms were not that lucky.

Despite these problems, a predicted shortage in edible peanuts and subsequent high prices will likely influence more South Carolina farmers to try peanuts and will encourage those already growing the crop to expand their acreage.

The high prices expected for peanuts in 2012 — some contend up to $1,000 a ton — may cloud the judgment of some growers. 

Higher input costs

The high price will surely come with higher input costs and managing these costs is the real key to making a profit.

Managing the cost of producing a crop, whether it be peanuts, cotton or any other crop, is getting more and more critical and this year’s weather has not made accurate cost assessment easy. 

About 10 years ago, Perrow was one of the first to join Syngenta’s AgriEdge program. Such programs, he says, can be a big asset in both difficult and prosperous times.

“The AgriEdge program really opened my eyes as to just how much things cost from year to year. When you start breaking cost down, piece by piece, it gives you a clear idea of how much it costs to produce a crop.

“I can talk to one of my farmers, and he will tell me it costs $500 an acre for cotton and another says it costs $300 an acre to grow cotton, but too often they don’t really know the total input costs that go into the crop,” Perrow says.

“The AgriEdge program started in 2002 in the Southeast. Its history goes back to a program, Project Yield, which started with six cotton growers in the Delta,” says Randy Johnson, who manages the  program for Syngenta.

“The  Agri-Edge program is similar and was developed for the Southeast by long-time farmer and agri-businessman Pete Clark. They built the offline computer program from the ground up. It allows a grower to track anything imaginable that you want to track on the farm,” Johnson says.

“For example, a grower can go out on March 5, burndown with Touchdown or 2,4-D, and then he can go into the program and input the rates and cost. It has a financial side that allows you to put in the cost. At the end of the year, the compilation of all these costs gives you an average per acre cost,”he adds.

“Over the 10 years or so I’ve been in the program, the cost of producing a crop has gone up an average of 2-3 percent per year. Some years, some chemicals come down in cost and others go up, but on average the cost of growing a crop is going up,” Perrow says.

Depending on factors like whether you own your land or rent your farm land, what crops you grow, and hundreds of other factors the cost of growing a cotton crop ranges from $300 to $500. With this program, you know exactly what it should cost you to grow a crop, he says.

Two major advantages

The two major advantages of knowing your exact cost and the inputs you used to grow a crop come when dealing with lending agencies and regulatory agencies.

If you know exactly what it cost to grow a crop last year and for the past several years, you will have a really good idea of what you will need to grow one next year.

Better, a banker can look at your cost and compare these to projected yields and crop values and make a better estimate on how much money to lend and at what rate.

“Regulatory agencies can look at the cost data and determine how much of what chemical you used on your crops. From a time standpoint, having that information available, rather than trying to find it when you’re busy trying to do other things can be important,” Johnson adds.

 “Another aspect of the AgriEdge program that I like is the service they provide. In a year like this past one, having access for someone with in-depth crop analysis abilities can be invaluable because we see problems that don’t usually come up in years with extreme weather,” Perrow says.

”Making the transition from grower to consultant was a natural one,” he adds.

“I’ve scouted cotton since I was in the ninth grade and have only missed two growing seasons of  scouting.” 

After finishing college in 1981, he began a cotton scouting business. He worked with cotton for 20 years or so, andthen when peanuts came into prominence in the early 2000s, he began working with growers to figure out the best ways to grow the crop in South Carolina.

Now, peanuts have become his primary crop, though he continues to do a lot of insect management work in cotton. 

“There’s always something new with cotton pests. I had someone recentlycall me and tell me they have had more stink bugs in their cotton than they’ve ever seen. Turns out it wasn’t stink bugs, but kudzu bugs, but there are plenty of those, too,” Perrow laughs.

For peanuts, Perrow is the go-to guy for every aspect of production. “We got into peanuts the first year after the peanut program ended, and peanut production in our area of the state has continued to grow and thrive” he notes.

“We are very fortunate that our soils are ideal for peanuts, and we made phenomenal yields and continue to have good yields. Jay Chapin and his team at the Edisto Research Center was a big help in getting us through the first few years, and we got a lot of help from people in the industry who  know a great deal about growing peanuts,” he says.

In 2011, South Carolina farmers planted more than 75,000 acres of peanuts, and Perrow expects acreage to increase more dramatically next year.

Ideal rotation crop

“In addition to providing a good source of farm revenue, peanuts really helped cotton growers in our part of the state. It is an ideal rotation crop and allows growers to break the cotton after cotton cycle,” he explains.

“This year, we are seeing some different things. We planted a few acres of Bailey peanuts, for example, and in late August we began seeing discoloration of the foliage of these plants.

“We found it was caused by feeding from 3-cornered alfalfa beetles. None of the other two varieties in the same field showed any damage. When we get the yield data we can determine whether the so-called ‘hopper burn’ has any effect on yield and quality,” Perrow says.

“Typically, in the kind of hot, dry weather we had this year, you would expect lesser cornstalk borer to be a problem. We had some sporadic problems, but not much that was worth treating. It was just a different year,” the South Carolina consultant adds. “Even in a dry year like this past season, CBR (cylindrocladium black rot) is often a problem. We kept looking for it, but never really saw much of problem, despite all the heat and dry conditions,” Perrow notes.

“Aflatoxin contamination was a big problem in the 2010 peanut crop and in 2011 weather conditions are much more favorable for it to develop.”

Perrow says it’s never been much of a problem in his area of South Carolina, but it is a concern this year because of the unusual weather.

“I think we will have a split peanut crop this year. Peanuts put on an early taproot crop, and after it got so dry, we really had a pollination problem and the plants didn’t really put on any more peanuts until Augustwhen we got some rainfall,” Perrow says.

When to dig is probably the most critical management decision a peanut farmer has to make. That’s comparable to knowing when to defoliate cotton — the wrong decision can cost a lot of money.

For growers thinking about getting into peanuts or going bigger with peanuts next year, Perrow says get some good information.

“It can be difficult, because you get information from so many sources and some is good and some is bad for your particular farming situation.

“Finding someone you can trust to help you make those critical decisions will be important for growers not familiar with growing peanuts,” the South Carolina consultant says.

rroberson@farmpress.com