Because water is the most limiting factor for West Texas peanut farmers, Jake Teichroeb applies nutrients and other management resources based on the amount and quality of water available to specific fields.
He farms near Welch, Texas, in Dawson County, but works fields that are spread over four counties, and says knowing the potential and limitations of each field is crucial to efficient production — a daunting task with 3,000 acres of peanuts, 6,000 of cotton, and about 1,000 devoted to forage and pasture for his black Angus cattle herd.
“Most of the water goes to peanuts,” he says.
Rotation, fertility, and timing (especially for weed control) are other key factors in producing an efficient peanut crop. Sticking to those principles, and following a sound marketing program that includes variety selection, helped earn Teichroeb the 2017 Farm Press Peanut Efficiency Award for the Southwest region. He will be honored July 22 at the Southern Peanut Growers Conference at Destin, Fla., along with winners from the Upper Southeast states and Lower Southeast states.
He also contends that, considering the cost of inputs, it makes economic sense not to try and pull more out of the land than it’s capable of producing. “My father taught me how to farm. He said it’s always better to let Mother Nature make the crop instead of buying the crop.”
Applying necessary nutrients, water, and other inputs is important, but knowing the limitations of the field is equally so. “We add what the crop needs — but a lot of stuff we could buy isn’t necessary. Not every field will benefit from a higher fertility rate. We have to know the fields.”
Farming “one year at a time” hampers efficiency, Teichroeb says. “I want to manage five years ahead.”
That’s one reason he maintains acreage balance at 3,000 for peanuts and 6,000 for cotton. “That’s the way I have rotation set up — to be three years out of peanuts.”
That system benefits cotton and peanuts, he says. Disease pressure on peanuts is light to nonexistent, so fungicide applications are rare. “But, just 70 miles west, diseases are more common.”
The peanut rotation also provides a yield boost in cotton. “If cotton is planted year after year, yields will decline,” he says, but if cotton is planted behind peanuts it can yield as much as 300 pounds more than the previous year. So even on acres that may be marginal peanut land, he gets an advantage from the rotation.
Teichroeb’s brother farms farther west, in Gaines County. “Yields are typically better to the west,” he says. “I average about 3,800 pounds per acre, and will make 4,500 or more on some fields. But other fields won’t produce that much. My best yield ever was 5,700 pounds per acre in 2007. Some fields might have potential to make more — but that’s about the limit for most of this area.”
He fertilizes accordingly. “I use a consultant, who takes soil samples, then makes a good blend of nutrients based on the analysis. I also fertilize based on water availability for a specific field.” He knows water quantity and water quality for each field. Saline water is an issue, and a limiting factor for production. “Wells are spotty, with high salt content in some fields. I know where those wells are.”
He boosts irrigation efficiency by dividing acreage under the pivots — half in peanuts, half in cotton — and concentrating the water on peanuts. “I farm all my acreage,” he says. “Some peanut farmers won’t plant the corners, but I plant dryland cotton on those dry corners.”
With 3,000 acres of peanuts and twice that much cotton, timing of herbicide applications presents another challenge, Teichroeb says. “We’ve had tremendous problem with resistant pigweed. It’s not a big issue in peanuts — if we get into the fields on time. But it’s trouble in cotton. New technology will help.”
He’s used 2,4-DB in the past to clear up escapes in peanut fields. “About every fourth week, we apply something to the peanut fields. Sometimes, something goes wrong: We have weather issues or something, and we’ll miss a spray application. We use 2,4-DB to clean it up. But that herbicide is hard to clean out of the tank,” which could create problems for cotton.
That’s where Teichroeb thinks a new technology, Enlist cotton varieties, will be an advantage with peanuts. “If we have to spray 2,4-D on peanuts, we won’t have to worry as much about spray tank residue being applied to vulnerable cotton. Because we plant half peanuts and half cotton under the same pivot, drift issues could be a problem, but not with Enlist.”
He’s planting 100 percent of his cotton acreage to Enlist varieties and will use Enlist Duo for tough weeds. “But, since Enlist Duo includes Roundup, we have to be careful about drift onto peanuts. I’m excited about the new technology, but we have to follow the label and use the product wisely.” Producers also grow grapes in the area, which are highly susceptible to dicamba and 2,4-D injury.
Teichroeb starts his weed control program with deep tillage behind a cotton crop. “That buries a lot of weed seed,” he says. He doesn’t deep-till ahead of cotton that’s being planted behind peanuts.
Treflan is applied after he deep-breaks the land, Valor just before cracking, and Dual a month later, finishing with a lay-by application of Warrant. He typically irrigates with a half-inch of water to incorporate Valor.
He likes to plant into moist soil and irrigates, if necessary, with about three-fourths inch just after planting. After he waters in the Valor, he likes to let the crop “sit for about 30 days to get the roots down; then I water pretty heavily.”
Variety selection also plays a critical role in Teichroeb’s efficient production system. His brother, to the west, typically plants runner-type peanuts. “In Gaines County, runners yield better than Virginia peanuts,” he says. “Here, the saline irrigation water limits yield potential, so we see little difference in yields between runners and Virginias.”
There is a difference in the markets, however. He plants mostly Virginia peanuts and just a few runners. “This year I contracted Virginias for $550 a ton, but I could only get $500 a ton for runners. I plant whichever pays better since the yield potential is not that different.”
BACK TO THE FARM
Teichroeb grew up on the farm, but looked at other occupations before he came back to farm on his own. He worked on a farm with a brother for a while, worked in a construction business with another brother, and started his own irrigation installation company. He came back to the farm to work with his dad and started taking on more acreage.
“Dad passed away in 2007. After that, I wanted to grow the farm, and I worked out a plan to lease another farm.” After that, he started buying some land and leasing more acres until he reached his goal of 10,000 acres.
“I don’t plan to get any bigger,” he says. “I’ve traded some acres that were farther away from my headquarters to get some that’s closer in. I’m trying to bunch up as many acres as I can. I want to make certain to keep at least 3,000 acres available for the peanuts and cotton rotation.”
He’s happy to be back on the farm, he says. “I love it. It’s my passion. I also enjoy the cows.” He’s also recently gone into partnership in a peanut buying station at Welch, and does custom harvesting of cotton and peanuts.
He and his wife, Lisa, recently moved from Seminole to be closer to most of the acreage he farms. They have three sons, Malachi, 11, Lane, 12, and Clay, 14.
“I think there’s a good chance my sons will want to farm,” he says. “I’ll let them figure it out.”