EDITOR’S NOTE — Each summer, Farm Press, along with its co-sponsors, presents the Peanut Profitability Awards to deserving growers from each peanut-producing region who have simultaneously achieved top yields and cost efficiency over their entire operations. Since these awards are based on the previous year’s production, we thought it would be interesting to see how our 2012 honorees fared during the most recent growing season.
Fifty-five inches of rain from planting until harvest is too much rain for any farmer, even a dryland peanut producer.
In late June of 2012, Tropical Storm Debby proved to be a drought buster for parts of north Florida, but she also left plenty of damage in her wake, including some severe flooding at I.C. Terry Farms near Lake City.
“Under the circumstances, we did fair this past year with our peanut crop,” says Ross Terry. Ross, along with William and James Terry, were the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award winners for the Lower Southeast Region in 2012.
I.C. Terry Farms is family owned and operated, with Ross being a cousin to brothers William and James.
Despite the flooding, Terry Farms still averaged 4,800 pounds per acre from about 160 acres.
The Terrys follow a unique rotation, planting peanuts for three consecutive years following baihiagrass. They keep their bahiagrass stands for about nine years before they disturb the land and prepare it for the next peanut crop.
“Nearly 12 acres of our peanuts were completely washed out by the storm, but we still managed to do fairly well and our quality and grades were good,” says Ross.
I.C. Terry Farms includes about 2,500 total acres and 200 head of beef cattle. They only grow enough peanuts they can care for themselves, says Ross.
Looking ahead to 2013
Looking ahead to 2013, an over-supply of peanuts has cast a pall over markets and caused uncertainty for growers such as the Terrys.
“We’re not sure if we’ll plant the same acreage as last year,” says Ross. “It’s all according to the kind of contracts that’ll be offered, and they’re looking pretty cheap right now.
“Considering the cost of fertilizer and other peanuts, I don’t think we’d be too interested in a contract at $350.”
Joe. D. White, the 2012 Peanut Profitability Award winner for the Southwest, was waiting for rain in late November as the two-year drought appeared to be extending into a third production season.
But White, who grows peanuts, cotton and some grain near Frederick, Okla., said the 2012 peanut crop surprised him. “They were really good,” he said. “Average yield hit 5,300 pounds per acre and average grade was 72. That’s about as good a crop as I’ve ever had,” he said.
“We didn’t get a lot of rain; three or four half-inch showers kept the crop going. The total was not much more than we had in 2011.”
He said conditions were a little more favorable for peanuts in 2012. “It was a little cooler and not as windy. We also cut back on total irrigation and made water go as far as possible.”
White expects to maintain peanut acreage for 2013, but says contract prices might be a factor come spring. “Acreage will be the same or a little less but probably about the same as 2012. With a good price I might have added some acreage, but now, I’m not sure.”
He said the 2012 irrigated cotton crop performed fairly well with average yield hitting two and three-fourths bales per acre. Dryland cotton was not as good and he harvested just 25 percent to 30 percent of planted dryland acreage.
“Dryland fields were spotty,” he said. Yield ranged from 150 pounds to 300 pounds where fields got a little rain. “Fields that didn’t get rain made nothing,” he said.
Overall very fortunate
“Overall, we were very fortunate.” He said late cotton didn’t mature as well as he would have liked and resulted in some lower mic.
He also had some peanuts with sound splits. “And I don’t know why. Maybe it was a little drier than usual at harvest.” He said splits affect his seed contracts.
White was through harvest by late November, a first for his operation. “I’ve never finished before December,” he said.
Last year was one to remember, says Luray, S.C., grower Bud Bowers.
“It was across-the-board on all our crops, the best year we’ve ever had farming, but it sure didn’t start out that way,” he notes.
Bowers, who was the Upper Southeast Peanut Profitability winner last year, plants mostly Virginia-type peanuts, but also plants some runner varieties as well. He plants some of his Virginia type peanuts in a twin-row planting and plants some under irrigation and some dryland.
“Last year it didn’t matter, we had dryland peanuts that out-yielded irrigated peanuts in some fields. Overall, we will probably end up with more than 5,000 pounds per acre average yield on all our peanuts. In some fields, we will end up with 6,000 pounds per acre,” he says.
Thinking back to last May, he says he wondered if he would ever get all his peanuts and cotton planted. Drought at peak planting time, even with irrigation, slowed down the planting process on both crops.
Bowers, who uses an innovative system of soil probes to measure available moisture to his crops, says Mother Nature took over in the summer months and provided excellent moisture during the growing season, then provided warm, dry harvest-time weather. The end result was a really good crop, he says.
Peanuts were good, but cotton, his primary crop for a number of years, was even better.
“We had some dryland fields that topped three bales per acre last year. In both cotton and peanuts, moisture was not a limiting factor on yield and quality of the crop,” he adds.
Fortunately, he had most of his peanuts under contract before he put the crop in the ground. Still, with such high yields, he will have some extra peanuts this year. In most years, that’s a good problem to have, but not this year.
“I don’t know what we (peanut growers) are going to do with all these peanuts. I really feel sorry for all those growers who planted peanuts without a contract.
“Some of those folks are going to be in a really bad situation going into planting time next year,” Bowers says.
Next year, he says, he will have to see what contracts are available, before he can plan how many acres of peanuts to plant.
“I feel like the buyers will step up and offer contracts competitive with other crops, but I don’t have a good feel for how many of those contracts will be offered,” he says.
Though peanuts and cotton has been a good rotation for him for the past several years, the instability of cotton prices makes it a high risk to plant, too.
Bowers says he will probably plant more corn next year, but peanuts and cotton present a lot more questions than answers for next year, he adds.
(You can read the complete stories of these three operations and many more by clicking here ).