Jason Sauls, 2004 Southeast Winner

Georgia family takes Peanut Profitability honors in lower Southeast region

By Paul L. Hollis Farm Press Editorial Staff

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 farming operation consists of Billy and wife Frankie, Billy’s brother, 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. Georgia Green
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. Harvest problem
“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 on 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 1 to 1 1/4 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.” Weed controls
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.”

Jimbo Grissom, 2004 Southwest Winner

Southwest award winner finds reduced till, rotation key to peanut production success

By Ron Smith, Farm Press Editorial Staff Moving from Central Texas to the High Plains required some soul searching for Jimbo Grissom’s family some 20 years ago. But they had to do something. Average peanut yield on their farm near Stephenville had dropped to around 2,300 pounds per acre on irrigated land and as low as 1,200 pounds per acre on dryland production. They even farmed in Georgia one year, looking for a way to keep peanuts profitable. “If we hadn’t had the quota system we couldn’t have afforded to grow peanuts,” Grissom says. They moved to Gaines County in 1984. The move paid off. Grissom averaged 5,400 pounds per acre in 2003, something of a down year on the 800 acres he grows near Seminole. Still, that yield and his efficient production practices earned Grissom the 2004 Peanut Profitability Award for the Southwest region. The award, sponsored annually by Farm Press Publications, recognizes peanut farmers in the three primary production areas — the Southwest, the Southeast and the Virginia/Carolinas — for achieving efficient production over their entire peanut acreage. “It’s not just a yield contest where farmers can select a favorite field and submit it for consideration,” says Marshall Lamb, an economist with the USDA National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga. Lamb oversees the Peanut Profitability Award program and analyzes entries to determine per pound production costs. Corporate sponsors
In addition to Farm Press, corporate sponsors include: Bayer CropScience (Folicur and Temik), Sipcam Agro, John Deere, U.S. Borax, Golden Peanut Co. and the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation. Grissom, like most winners from each of the three regions for the past five years, cites rotation as a critical factor in maintaining high yields and efficient production. He rotates wheat, cotton and peanuts, usually planting one-third of an irrigation circle to each crop. “We have pretty good water on most of our pivots,” Grissom says, “but if water is short, we water peanuts first and wet cotton if we can.” He harvests wheat in early summer and lets that third of the field lay fallow. He plants cotton in the stubble the following spring. “I have followed a rotation of two years in peanuts and two years out,” he says, “but I prefer the three-year cycle. Usually peanuts follow cotton and cotton goes behind wheat.” He’s also convinced that minimum tillage pays dividends with peanuts and cotton. “Everything we have is minimum till,” he says. “One farm almost blew away last year because we didn’t get it early enough to use minimum tillage. We had just bought the farm and had to plant conventionally.” Wind protection
Grissom has been committed to reduced tillage systems for 10 years. “Our biggest advantage is protection from wind damage,” he says. “But as high as fuel prices are this year, we’ll save money by making fewer trips across the fields.” He also saves on equipment and labor. “When we first moved up here we had seven or eight tractors for 700 to 800 acres of peanuts. Now we get by with three big tractors.” He uses two 12-row planters. “We can plant everything in about four and-a-half days,” he says. Weed control is less labor-intensive as well. “We had to hoe some last year but not nearly as much as we used to,” he says. He expects to spot spray herbicide as needed and makes one pass with a rolling cultivator to knock the wheat down. He plants wheat as a cover crop and terminates with Roundup. “We keep the fields clean. We grow seed peanuts so our fields have to be exceptionally clean to pass USDA inspections.” For two years Grissom has killed the wheat cover crop, planted and then applied Prowl, two pints per acre. “We applied it through the irrigation system,” Grissom says. “It looks good so far.” He says he and his brother Louis wondered about waiting to apply the herbicide. “We usually put herbicides out in March. But we sprayed the cover crop and got other weeds at the same time, so we didn’t have any weeds when we planted.” Last year they applied Prowl early and used gramoxone after planting to burn down weeds already up. Grissom stretches water resources as far as possible without stressing his peanuts. He uses wobbler nozzles on fields with good water. “I prefer LEPA systems on fields with lighter water.” He plants in a circle, following the pivot pattern to hold water on the soil and to reduce erosion potential. He puts a balanced fertilizer out in the fall, when he breaks the land. He uses a moldboard plow and a land plane to level the soil and lift it. “We break land in September and don’t do anything else but water the cover crop until we plant.” Disease pressure has been light. “As long as we rotate we shouldn’t have much trouble with diseases,” Grissom says. “Last year we used an inoculant, Lift, and added Abound fungicide with it. That helps a lot on seedling disease control. We sprayed a little foliar fungicide last year. We also did a petiole analysis to test for nutrient needs and added a foliar fertilizer with a spray rig.” Insects pose no problem. “I can’t remember the last time I had to spray for insect pests,” he says. He uses some calcium when he raises Virginia-type peanuts. “Calcium helps hold the peanuts on the vines and the dirt doesn’t stick to them as much. Calcium makes the pegs harder.” This year he’s growing runner peanuts, all Flavor Runner. Grissom says identifying a set of practices to assure efficient production is difficult. “We always walk a fine line,” he says. “We can’t just stop doing something that works. We have to spend money sometimes to keep yields up. But we watch what we do closely. We’re not stingy with the peanut crop; we give it what it needs.” Grissom says he’s usually satisfied with a 4,800- to 5,000-pound-per-acre yield. “But I plan for better than that. I always set my goal at 5,500 pounds.” His best field last year produced 6,700 pounds per acre over 240 acres. “I farmed that field with my father, Jimmy, and Louis.” He says timing “is a big factor in growing peanuts out here.” Grissom, Louis, and their father use the same consultant, Ron Henning, to advise on crop needs. “Last fall, a lot of other farmers harvested peanuts a good 15 to 20 days before we did,” he says. “Ron kept telling us to wait another week. We didn’t thresh any peanuts until Oct. 18.” He says weather was ideal last fall and the crop filled out better because of those extra days. Grissom uses a sandwich digger/inverter to improve peanut quality. The digger, instead of turning peanuts upside down to dry in the sun, puts one vine facing up and the next one facing down on top of the first. “That way the peanuts are sandwiched between the vines,” Grissom explains. “The vines keep the pods from drying out too much and also protects them from an early frost.” He says some buyers offer a $10 per ton premium for sandwich inverting.” Last year was the first growing season since moving to Gaines County that the Grissoms split into totally separate operations. “We got to a point where financially we could go out on our own,” he says. “It’s a good thing for all of us, but I miss them, too. We have one farm, a leased field that we can’t split equitably, that we still farm together. We’ve always gotten along well, so farming together has been a good thing.” Grissom says good help also contributes to efficiency. “I count on my son Jeramie, and I have an employee, Boone Alvidrez, who’s been with me for years. I can depend on them to take care of the farm.” Grissom, along with winners from the Southeast and Virginia/Carolinas area, will be honored at the annual Southern Peanut Farmers’ Federation meeting July 22 in Panama City, Florida.

Joseph H. Ward, 2004 Virginia-Carolina Winner

Virginia-Carolina peanut award honoree winning TSWV battle

By Cecil H. Yancy, Jr. Farm Press Editorial Staff For years, tomato spotted wilt virus knocked a hole in Joe Ward’s peanut yields. Last year, the Chowan County producer got back on track through a program of cultural practices and varieties aimed at reducing its threat. Also, it may have helped that TSWV wasn’t as severe in North Carolina in 2003. The result: Ward had yields of 5,100 pounds per acre in 2003. He farms with his son, Brian. Ward is the Farm Press Peanut Profitability winner from the Virginia-Carolina region. Ward follows the Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus Risk Index developed by North Carolina State University and Virginia Tech. An economist by training, Ward adopts practices that add to his bottom line. For example, take TSWV. TSWV pressure had been slowly building over the years in the V-C. It hit with a vengeance around the turn of the century, and sent researchers searching for a way to help farmers minimize risks. Extension and researchers in Virginia and North Carolina relied heavily on a TSWV Risk Index developed in the mid-1990s in Georgia by Steve Brown and colleagues at the University of Georgia. The Risk Index relies on the use of varieties, planting dates, twin rows, plant populations, tillage and insecticide. On Ward’s farm, he’s planting one week to 10 days later than he once did. Planting date plays a big role in reducing TSWV risk. “Our goal is to plant between May 10-15 if possible, depending on the weather,” Ward says. He’s increased plant populations by going from 140 pounds to 150 pounds of seed per acre. He was one of the first in the area to plant twin rows. Ward began planting twin rows in 1981. “It makes a difference in yield.” He’s also spreading out his harvest as well as his risk to the virus by planting six different varieties: 92R, VA 98R, Wilson, NC-V 11, NC-V11 and Gregory. Ward grows about two-thirds of the peanuts for seed. For the past two years, he’s shied away from planting Perry, which has little resistance to TSWV. Mostly twin rows
Most of the peanut acreage is planted on twin rows, a practice that is recommended for reducing risk to TSWV. He grows the Gregory variety on single rows because of rank vine growth. “For four years in a row the yields went down because of TSWV,” Ward says. For the past 20 years, Sclerotinia blight has been the major concern. Now it’s TSWV. Located just south of the Virginia-North Carolina line, Ward farms in an area known for good yields and high disease pressure. He keeps a close eye on diseases in his fields, operates on a spray schedule and uses a four-year rotation. Three weeks before he plants, he fumigates his peanut land before bedding the rows. Around the last week of June, he’ll start a six-spray fungicide program on a 14-day schedule, alternating sprays between two materials with different modes of action. While Sclerotinia has taken second place in the diseases of concern in the V-C area, it’s by no means off the chart. “Sclerotinia blight can devastate a crop if you don’t stay on top of it,” Ward says. It’s also an expensive proposition to control, costing about $40 per acre per treatment. Ward averages treating for Sclerotinia twice each year. The disease thrives on cool nighttime temperatures. So far in 2004, the weather has been just right to get the crop off to a good start and out of the harm of diseases, Ward says. Forward thinking led Ward to combat another perennial concern: drought. Underground pipe
He began setting up his farm for irrigation in the mid-1980s and now has more than 4 miles of underground pipe laid 36 inches underground through his fields. About half of the 270 acres can be irrigated. He has three Hobbs reel-type systems that he hooks to risers in the fields that connect to the water source. Last year, he installed a center pivot irrigation rig on his sandy land. “I didn’t need irrigation last year,” he says. “But in most years, I’ll need it.” Under the old peanut program, he grew mostly quota peanuts and says he’s probably a little worse off under the new program. “It all depends on the price,” he says. “I hope we can stay in the $500 per ton range, or I’ll cut back on acres.” He sells his peanuts to Golden Peanut Co. through C.A. Perry and Son. “Bud” Perry is his brother-in-law. Since most of the peanuts are destined for seed purposes, Ward applies landplaster at a rate of about 1,500 pounds per acre. He also pays close attention to weeds. As for the future of peanuts, Ward sees hope. He cites statistics that peanut usage is up 10 percent in the United States. Today, Ward, 56, farms with his son, Brian, who himself, returned to the farm after a stint in college. Along with his wife, Peggy, and long-time employee Allen Berryman, the Wards farm in Tyner, N.C.