It was a very good year for peanuts. Good planting moisture, ample rainfall, and moderate early-season temperatures, combined with a proven production program, put more than 5,500 pounds per acre in the hoppers for White Face Farms in 2004.
It also earned White Face Farms manager Rex Carr the 2005 Southwest Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award. Each year Farm Press Publications recognizes one grower from each of the three peanut production areas (Southwest, Southeast and Virginia-Carolina) for production efficiency.
Carr will receive the award at the annual Southern Peanut Growers Federation Conference July 19 in Panama City, Florida.
Carr says consistent rotation plays a key role in a 10-step production scheme on the Hockley County farm, near Levelland, Texas.
“Rotation is crucial,” he says. “When we first decided to grow peanuts we established a policy that we would stay on a four-year rotation.” He also plants wheat and cotton.
“Before we planted peanuts, we studied research that showed a four-year rotation to be critical,” he says.
He made his first peanut crop in 1998 and 2004 was the first time he planted peanuts on land that had made peanuts before. “We will never plant peanuts on the same field two years in a row.”
Peanuts usually follow cotton; wheat follows peanuts.
Carr likes to break peanut land and says deep plowing helps start the year with a full soil moisture profile. “If I don't have that, I'll irrigate before planting.”
His third recommendation is to plant as early as possible. “I prefer to plant the last week in April or the first in May,” he says. “This year, we were too cold in late April so we had to wait a bit to get started. We had a nine to 10-day delay. Peanuts began to emerge in mid-May.”
Variety selection is Carr's fourth key. He plants Spanish varieties primarily because of good prices and early-maturity.
“They come up quicker and I get them harvested earlier,” he says.
Early digging may save the crop from erratic weather patterns common in late summer and early fall in the Southern Plains.
“I treat Spanish varieties like I would a runner-type peanut,” Carr says. “I fertilize and water as I would runners. But I harvest as much as two weeks earlier. That means a lot on the plains where weather is unpredictable.” He has not lost a crop to late-season weather.
He planted Tamspan 90 in the past but switched to a new Spanish-type, 9899-14, a Golden Peanut selection, this year. “I'm planting all my acreage in that variety, a high oleic peanut,” he says. “It's a cross between a Spanish variety and a runner but is classified as a Spanish peanut.”
Carr says a number of White Face Farms tenants also planted 9899-14 this year. “It looks like a good fit for this area. It produces a good vine and makes a good root crop and a good limb crop.”
Carr says good fertility pays off on Spanish varieties. He begins with a base application of 20-50-20-20 (sulfur). “That's the normal routine. I may side-dress twice with anhydrous ammonia. I used to add some calcium but no more. The base fertility program and the anhydrous do more than additional calcium would.”
Carr says weeds posed a bit more trouble last year than usual. “We have to keep weeds down,” he says. “And I'm not crazy about applying a herbicide over-the-top for anything other than johnsongrass.”
He starts with a pre-plant application of Prowl. “We'll come over-the-top with Select if necessary,” he says. “We knife the fields a couple of times but make certain we're done before pegging. I want to get the plant as big as possible as soon as possible so it will shade the ground.”
A good canopy helps prevent weed emergence and also creates a better environment for pegging, he says.
Cold steel also plays a role. “We'll hoe peanuts three or four times a season, as often as we need to. A crew of five or six covers the acreage in three or four days. I've been fortunate to get the same crew most years so we have experienced hands.”
Water is always a limiting factor and efficient irrigation a necessity. Carr likes wobbler heads on his LEPA irrigation system. He also uses subsurface drip irrigation and side-row sprinkler systems.
“The wobblers, overall, do the best job,” he says. He limits side-row sprinkler use to what he can cover in a week. “Still, some of the best peanuts we've made were under side-row sprinklers.”
Carr may make 30 irrigation passes a season to water peanuts. Last year he measured 30 inches of rainfall on the peanut fields and added 18 inches through the systems.
“I've only had peanuts on drip irrigation for one year,” he says. “They did well and I couldn't have picked a better year to use a drip system. We made 4,900 pounds per acre on a 20-acre field with only four gallons of water per acre.”
Ample rainfall last year allowed him to push moisture up to help germination. “Timely rain is a key to drip irrigation in peanuts,” he says. “A 3/10-inch rain will go a long way with a drip system. That little bit helps keep the ground moist until the vines grow together to create the peanut plant's own little greenhouse.”
Harvest timing also earns a spot on Carr's top-ten practices list.
“I like to dig the first of October,” he says. The early maturity of Spanish varieties gives him a bit of an edge over runners most years and allows him to get peanuts off the ground before cold weather threatens.
“We have a lot of money on the ground after digging,” he says. “I like to field dry the crop but if weather predictions indicate a frost coming in, I'll combine them and dry them mechanically.”
Carr uses his own digger but hires a custom harvester to combine the crop. “I like to be first on the list for combining,” he says. “I may even sacrifice a few points on grade to get harvest going. I want to get them out when they are ready.”
He says his Spanish peanuts typically grade 75 to 76. “We pick up a few dollars for grades above 69.”
Carr uses a liquid inoculant, Lift Optimize, to give peanut seed a better start. “It's a key,” he says. “I put it straight into the furrow at planting time. That gives me better seed coverage and helps activate the inoculant. I also need to keep it wet so the seed will absorb the product. That usually means irrigation but it all depends on pre-plant conditions.”
He says coverage this year has been good because of ample soil moisture at planting time.
Disease and insect control pose few problems for Carr, but he says pressure was higher than usual last year because of rainfall. “Even with higher pressure, I only had to spray one time for pod rot.” He typically uses Abound fungicide for pod rot and this year applied six ounces with the inoculant. “I think it paid off with this year's cool start,” he says.
He relies on a crop consultant, James Powell of Powell Ag Consultants, for pest management recommendations.
“We occasionally spray for worms but we use low rates of pyrethroids to take care of them. We've had to spray for insects only two or three times since we started growing peanuts.”
Carr says peanuts have been a good addition to the White Face Farms crop mix. “Last year was the best I can remember for peanuts and cotton,” he says.
He started in peanuts while the quota system was still intact. “We got in four or five crops with quota,” he says. “We bought some quota and leased some. When the program ended, we had benefited from several years of experience with peanuts.”
He says the 160 acres of peanuts he plants works well with the cotton acreage. “That acreage fits with our rotation system. Currently, the profit potential from peanuts looks a little better than it does for cotton and peanuts help our cotton production.”
He handles marketing. “I like to be in control. I like knowing what I'm working for so we contract most of our acreage before we plant.”
In the past he's been able to get a premium for Spanish peanuts. “This year, about $45 above the loan was the best we could find.”
He also grows a seed block and picks up about $25 per ton for seed peanuts.
Carr says efficient production may be more difficult to achieve this year than it was in 2004. Fertilizer and energy prices jumped significantly over the winter.
“Irrigation costs could double this year,” he says. “We may be looking at $5.50 per inch of water we apply. And we may have to make 25 to 30 circles to produce the crop.”
Carr says a farm needs at least a four-gallon per acre water source to make a peanut crop under irrigation. “We can't risk too many acres with limited water resources,” he says.
Carr credits a lot of the farm's success to help from Golden Peanut Company.
“Rusty Andrews has been a big help,” he says. “He played a big part in helping us get started. He's never steered us wrong on when to plant, where to plant and how to market.”
He also credits Bill DeLoache, White Face Farms president of operations, for “allowing me to be progressive and take some risks. He (Bill) requires good records and he permits me to farm the land as if it were my own, and that's how I treat it.”