The secret to maintaining consistently high peanut yields in West Texas is hardly a secret: It's rotation.
“We've been growing peanuts in Hockley County for seven or eight years,” Says Jim Davis, who farms 3,000 acres of cotton, peanuts and wheat with his son-in-law Ron Alexander.
“When we first started we didn't know anything about raising peanuts but folks who did told us the key was to rotate. We've never planted peanuts behind peanuts. We usually go three or four years between peanut crops on the same field. I've seen some neighbors grow continuous peanuts and they get in trouble.”
Rotation was a significant factor in Davis' and Alexander's near 5,000-pound per acre average on 195 acres in 2005, a production and efficiency level that earned Davis (and Alexander) the 2006 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award. Davis will accept the award in July at the Southern Peanut Farmers' Federation annual meeting in Panama City, Fa.
They rotate with cotton, “usually two or three years in cotton and then back to peanuts,” Davis says. That rotation system, along with a typically arid climate, allows Davis and Alexander to get by with only rare fungicide applications.
“We have very little disease pressure,” Davis says. “We had some in 2004 and 2005, leaf spot and pepper spot. But we had more moisture. In 2004 we had 45 inches of rain. We usually get 15 inches annually. A lot of that moisture carried over into the 2005 crop and helped make that a good year.”
That moisture may have contributed to slightly higher disease infestations, Davis says. “We sprayed Stratego for leaf spot and pepper spot, just one time in 2005,” Davis says.
“We had two good years in a row. Good moisture made a difference.”
They irrigate all 195 acres with center pivot units. They use furrow dikes in every other row, “even on flat land to hold water in the fields.”
They still believe in breaking land. “We break in the fall, after harvest, float it, fertilize, and add herbicide (Prowl or Sonolan).”
They like to get basic tillage done in the fall but don't always finish before winter. “The last two years we've had such big cotton crops we were well into winter breaking land.”
“We fertilize for 2.5 or 3-bale cotton,” Davis says. “Then (depending on prices and other considerations at planting time), decide whether to plant cotton or peanuts.”
They also apply 40 to 50 units of nitrogen “about pegging time, usually between bloom and pegging.”
They rely mostly on herbicides for weed control. “I apply Valor before cracking time,” Davis says. “We might cultivate once, when peanut plants are small.”
The worst weed problems include careless weed, thistles, spurred anoda and wild sunflower. “Valor takes care of most weed problems. It did an excellent job last year,” Davis says. “One application has been adequate.”
He typically applies the herbicide just before cracking and cultivates to clean up.
Insects have been a non-issue. “We've never had to spray for insects. We sometimes get our cotton consultant to look at peanuts if we think we might have an insect problem. We've had none so far.”
Irrigation frequency has been a bit less the past two years. “We had to irrigate considerably less than usual in 2004.” Moisture from that year helped get the 2005 crop started as well. “We had to irrigate about 10 times last year,” Davis says, “about 1 inch per application.”
“Some years,” he says, “we had to turn on the irrigation pumps and leave them on.”
He had less soil moisture to start the 2006 crop. “I like to make certain we have at least enough moisture to keep seed from drying and to seal off the soil. I also want enough to activate the inoculant.” He applies a granular inoculant, 5 to 7 pounds per acre, as he plants.
They've added calcium before but found no advantage.
Davis and Alexander prefer to start harvest the first of October, before cotton and before threat of a hard freeze. “Usually, we harvest simultaneously with cotton,” he says.
Davis says peanuts have proven a good rotation with cotton and wheat (which they plant mostly on dry corners). “We can't grow corn, soybeans or milo profitably, and peanuts provide a good income crop.”
Davis says Alexander came into the farm (They also operate a farm supply business together.) 25 years ago. “It's a 50/50 partnership,” Davis says. “We farm the 3,000 acres together.”