High yields or efficient production? The Sauls family of southwest Georgia's Randolph County has proven that it doesn't have to be an “either/or” proposition when it comes to producing peanuts.

That's why, in addition to being honored by the Georgia Peanut Achievement Club this year for their more than 5,000 pounds-per-acre yields, the Sauls Partnership also has been named the 2004 Peanut Profitability winner for the Southeast Region.

You might say producing high-yielding, high-quality peanuts is a family trait for the Sauls Partnership. The southwest Georgia farming operation consists of Billy and wife Frankie, Billy's bother Jack, and Billy's sons, Jason and Guerry.

“Ninety percent of the land we farm is within a five to six-mile radius of our shop, so that helps us in our timeliness and in keeping our eyes on the crop,” says Jason Sauls.

The Sauls operation is spread over about 4,100 acres of cropland and a diversified mix of crops, including 1,250 acres of peanuts, 1,850 acres of cotton, 630 acres of corn, and 500 acres of wheat, in addition to grain sorghum and soybeans.

“We try to keep at least a three-year rotation with our peanuts, usually two years of cotton followed by peanuts. We're trying to stretch it to a four-year rotation, throwing corn in there for one year,” says Jason.

The Sauls' peanut acreage has remained steady over the years, despite a radical change in the crop's government program. “The change in the peanut program really hasn't affected our acreage. We've pretty much stayed with the same crop mix. If we increased our peanut acreage, I think our yields would decrease,” he says.

A majority of the Sauls' peanut crop is planted in the Georgia Green variety, in 8-inch twin rows. Jason gives much of the credit for high yields and efficiency to good seed.

“We save our own seed and try to do a good job of handling it,” he says. “We think we get more vigor from our seed because we don't put any heat on them, and that seems to help.”

Although corn and cotton are strip-tilled, the Sauls' peanut crop is planted conventionally, within a window of opportunity that decreases the risk of tomato spotted wilt virus.

“Tomato spotted wilt virus can be fairly severe here. We follow the University of Georgia's risk index as best we can. Of course, that means we're planting later than normal — we no longer plant peanuts in April. We put out six seed per row foot and we use Temik — whatever we can do to help minimize the risk to tomato spotted wilt,” says Jason.

Like other Georgia farmers who grow both peanuts and cotton, the planting window recommended by the risk index has caused a bit of a time crunch for the Sauls operation. The ideal planting date for minimizing risk to the virus, according to the index, is May 11-25. This means that cotton and peanuts usually are ready to be harvested at the same time.

“That planting window has caused us some problems with our cotton crop. We've ordered a six-row picker this year to help us with our harvest timing. We need to start picking cotton when it's ready rather than leaving it in the field and letting the grades deteriorate. We've seen quality problems with our cotton because we let it sit in the field while we're trying to get our peanuts out.”

For leafspot control this past year, Sauls followed a spray program of Tilt/Bravo in the first two sprays, followed by Bravo Ultrex and then Artisan. He sprayed Abound on half of the crop and Artisan/Abound on the other half, followed by another Bravo Ultrex application.

“In a wet year, such as last year, we pretty much follow a calendar schedule with our leafspot sprays. But whenever weather conditions are dry, we extend the periods between sprays,” says Jason.

About 75 percent of the Sauls' peanut crop is irrigated with 25 center pivots. Water is being pumped from wells, pond reservoirs and creeks.

“We try to put out about one to one and a quarter inches of water on our peanuts every seven days. When the peanuts are about 110 days old, we start pulling back some on the irrigation.”

For weed control on peanuts, Sauls broadcasts Sonalan and Strongarm, incorporating them with a field cultivator. He then goes back with a half rate of Cadre whenever the first leafspot treatment is made. Other weed control treatments are made on an “as needed” basis.

Sauls has cut back on his rootworm control program by using a scout and treating only where it's needed, rather than using a “shotgun” approach.

Producing a quality crop depends to a great extent on harvest timing, says Jason, and not rushing to dig the peanuts. “My father is very patient in watching the crop and not jumping the gun on digging our peanuts.”

As far as marketing peanuts under the new government program, Jason says it continues to be a learning process. “This year, we've already contracted about 40 percent of our crop at $400 per ton. Sometimes, we'll leave some in the loan and see how the market goes. But we'd prefer to go ahead and get our money up front. We're still on a learning curve with this new program.”

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com