Farming is all about timing, says Joe D. White, Tillman County, Okla., peanut, cotton and grain farmer.
For him, planting on time, irrigating on time, and spraying, plowing and harvesting on time often mean the difference between success or failure of a crop.
It’s especially important in peanuts, he says.
“We have to plant them at the right time, and we have to get rain at the right time. Then we have to dig and combine at the right time.”
And in-season, he’s conscientious about applying fungicides, herbicides and, if necessary, insecticides on time. Missing a critical disease treatment by just a few days, he says, can be devastating. He also further risks loss with a delay in digging or combining.
“We must be diligent,” says White’s wife, Gayle.
Their attention to detail, even through one of the worst production years they’ve ever faced, earned White this year’s Peanut Profitability Award for the Southwest region.
Their peanut program starts with a moldboard plow, a practice he continues to follow in peanuts even as he converts his other crop acreage to a no-till system.
“I just haven’t figured out how to control weeds in no-till peanuts yet,” he says, but concedes that he’s working on it.
Back one step, White applies 100 pounds of 0-0-60, then “moldboards it under.” He likes to get potassium out early “to keep it out of the pegging zone.
“After we settle the land back down, we apply a yellow herbicide and 60 units of nitrogen, 40 units of phosphorus and 20 pounds of sulfur. We fertilize for the peanuts, but also for the next crop.”
He plants the first week of May, 125 pounds of Jupiter Virginia seed per acre with an inoculant. “They have been consistent for us,” he says. “I’ve tried others.”
He adds Cadre herbicide three to four weeks later. “I sometimes add Dual in addition to the other herbicides, but the yellow and Cadre usually are enough. Cadre is good on nutgrass and morningglory, and also helps with broadleaf weeds.”
He applies Abound fungicide in mid-to late July, “right about flowering, just before pegging.”
Weather dictates fungicide use
He may need two more fungicide applications for leafspot, depending on weather.
“With high humidity, we may need two late fungicide treatments,” he says. That’s usually one application of Folicur and sometimes an application of Bravo “to finish up.”
Those last fungicide treatments typically come mid-August through the first 10 days of September. He says Folicur has become a good option. “It’s inexpensive and has a broad spectrum of activity.”
Irrigation timing is typically not an issue for White. “We turn the water on and irrigate as needed,” he says. “Last year started out wet. We got 5 inches of rain right after we planted.”
“Without GPS we wouldn’t have been able to find the rows after the rain,” Gayle says. “But we got a perfect stand — and then we got no more rain. And the wind just blew and blew.”
White says he used center sweeps in his peanuts to keep soil from blowing. “I had never done that before — but we did quite a few things last year that we don’t normally do. And we still made a crop.”
But it wasn’t easy. Yields were about two-thirds of normal production.
“It was a battle from beginning to end,” Gayle says. And the battle was on multiple fronts. “We fought drought, wind, deer and hogs,” she says.
“We did just about everything but give up,” her husband says.
Near constant vigilance kept feral hogs from destroying their peanuts. “It’s been a massive battle with these creatures the last few years,” Gayle says. “We basically slept with the peanuts to keep the hogs out. Someone was in the field just about all night with a light and a gun.”
Their daughter, Whitney Bell, and her husband, Brandon, killed as many as 170 hogs in one field last summer. “Usually, if we can get the peanuts up, hogs don’t bother them,” White says.
The drought may actually have helped thin the hog population a bit last year. “That may be the one good thing about the drought,” White says. “It may have been God’s way of thinning out the population,” Gayle adds. She says the prolonged drought also reduced deer survival. “We saw a lot of abandoned fawns.”
One of those cavorts around their barns and hay bales, a beneficiary of Gayle’s rescue and care. “He thinks he’s one of the dogs,” she says.
They are keeping a close watch on peanut fields this spring and are hoping reduced hog numbers will mean less pressure.
Practices strict rotation
White says a key to keeping peanuts profitable is a strict rotation program. Typically, he plants peanuts, corn and cotton, then goes back to peanuts. “That’s been consistent for a long time,” he says. “This year, I’m looking at peanuts, cotton and cotton. I don’t have any corn — we just don’t have enough underground moisture for corn this year, but I want to get back to it; any crop that follows corn usually does well.”
The Whites say peanuts have been the most consistent crop they grow for profit. “Planting is a little more difficult,” he says. “And harvest is slow. We have to remember that a peanut plant is a vegetable, and we have to be timely with it.”
Peanut and cotton harvest often overlap, but he says the focus is always to get peanuts in first. “We always hope to be through with peanuts before we start harvesting cotton, but we almost always have some overlap. We’ve started getting someone to come in and pick our irrigated cotton and then we’ll strip our dryland crop. We want to be through by Christmas.” Pushing harvest into the next year, he says, disrupts crop timing.
“Our peanuts always take precedence,” Gayle says.
“We started growing peanuts in 1987,” White says. “Since then, we’ve only missed one crop — in 2,000, I think. But we had a disaster program and good insurance.”
He says 2011 was the worst year he’s seen. “We had lower yields, but a good price helped out. We had the potential to make a big difference last year before the drought hit.”
Production expenses have gone up significantly in the last two years, he says. “The electric bill, for irrigation, has really gotten out of hand.”
“And we’re pretty efficient with our farm operation,” adds Gayle. “Joe D. and one employee do most of the work. Our son, Austin (a junior at Oklahoma State University), helps in the summer. He hopes to come back to the farm when he graduates.”
In addition to Whitney and Austin, they have another daughter, Jessica Lewis. She and her husband, Justin, live in Oklahoma City where he works with a commodity brokerage company.
Joe D. and Gayle hope 2012 offers an opportunity for more typical yields. They are starting off better, with spring rains ranging from 6 inches in some places to 10 inches or more in others. They have a good contract locked in for seed peanuts, and “we planted the best quality peanut seed I’ve ever seen,” White says.
They are both active in farm organizations. Joe D. is chairman of the Oklahoma Peanut Commission and serves with the Tillman County Farm Bureau, the Oklahoma Pesticide Advisory Board and is a delegate to the National Cotton Council. Gayle serves on the National Peanut Board.
“We believe we have to be involved,” White says. “If we don’t speak up for ourselves, who will?”