Timing key to peanut yields

Some people say farming is both an art and a science. You might interpret the “science” side of that equation in terms of learning, knowing and performing the practices that are the best for your crop. If so, then much of the “art” of farming would be putting that science to work for you — and somehow pulling it off in the middle of a busy season, when you’re also trying to do a thousand other things at the same time.

John Lane of Gates County, N.C., has a list of practices he thinks are best for improving his peanut yield. For most of them, he says, timing is the key to making them really work.

Among other things, John Lane is a seed peanut grower for Severn Peanut Co., farming with his father, Roger, and his brother, Bundy. John farms the row crops, including peanuts, corn, soybeans and cotton, while Roger and Bundy primarily take care of the farm’s livestock, both cattle and hogs.

Key Points

• Land plaster, pH very important for getting the crop off the tee.

• Coordinating operations results in more peanut yields.

• Vapam is under continued pressure from the EPA.


John’s father actually jumps back and forth between the row crops and the livestock, helping John out when it comes to running the spreader truck and taking care of all the fertilization work. John and Roger also work together to watch the markets, and manage the selling of the crops together.

“I’d say getting your biggest yield is not the result of any one trick, but a combination of things,” says John Lane, who is also president of the N.C. Peanut Growers Association.

“We fertilize our peanut ground. It is critical that pH is good, in the range of 6.0. It gives us overall plant health and pod fillment.”

Land plaster is also very important, he adds. It gives the plant calcium, which it needs to fill the pods out and make a healthy hull.

“Land plaster needs to be put down by pegging,” Lane says. “That is, it needs to be there and ready when those plants peg.”

And, Lane points out, it is very important to stay timely with fungicides, too.

“My practice is to sit down with my crop adviser, and the two of us will go over the plan for the season. We break up different fungicides. We’ll spread a different one each time we put one down, for resistance reasons. We’re also targeting different pests
with different sprays.

“In my area we have a lot of sclerotinia, which requires a very expensive treatment,” he adds. “Spraying for that disease is by far the most expensive thing that I do. If I am not timely with that spray, it can cost us a lot of money.”

Lane says a lot of growers, including himself, are still dependent on Vapam (sodium N-methyldithiocarbamate) as a fumigant, yet he sees it as an endangered species.

“The long and short of it is that the [U.S.] Environmental Protection Agency wants it gone,” he says. “Vapam is under a huge threat for 2011. I think it is going to be very burdensome if you continue to use Vapam in 2011, because you are going to have a lot of rules and regulations to follow.”

He notes that although the concern about Vapam use is national in scope, it is regrettable that peanut growers catch much of the criticism for using it. Peanut growers need Vapam, but they don’t use much of it per acre for their purposes and they apply it all under the ground, he says. The chemical volatizes and filters up through the ground, so that by the time it reaches the air it has largely dissipated.

“In other areas of the country, they put Vapam on top of the ground and use a lot of gallons per acre,” he says. “I really think they are the problem, but EPA broad-brushes the whole thing.”

Get yield out of the field

Growing a great yield in the field is not exactly the same as taking a great yield to the warehouse. One of the most difficult aspects of farming peanuts is getting them out of the field.

Lane says growers need to make sure their crop is mature, but not over-mature.

They will do that by sandblasting, and looking at the color of the hulls. But they’ll also go by their experience with the varieties they grow.

“I grow all Virginia-type peanuts, and they are not as forgiving as a runner type; the stem of a runner will hang on a lot longer in a lot of different situations,” he says.

“You will learn from experience that if the sandblaster says your peanuts are 60% ready, some varieties are more likely to be 70% to 75% ready in terms of the way they shed off. Other varieties tend to hang onto pods a little longer.

“Digging on time is very important,” Lane adds. “You can lose a lot of peanuts in a four- or five-day span when you go to get them out of the field.”

In testing for maturity in difficult years, Lane will dig four rows of peanuts for a streak of 50 yards, then go elsewhere in the field and do it again — dig another streak for testing.

“I think that gives a better feel, a more average feel. After I dig them, I just get down with the old pocketknife, scrape the hulls, pop them open and look at them.”

Again, the main concern with the digger is the timeliness, he says.

“And you’ve got to make sure your digger timing is set with your ground speed, so the digger is performing as well as it can,” he says.

Enough, not too much

Lane likes the peanuts to have four or five days drying on the ground before he picks them.

“I’ve found the combine doesn’t do as well with a peanut that is too dry, that has been laying on the ground too long,” he says.

“The same thing goes if you try to pick them too green. When they get past a certain point in terms of dryness, they get too brittle. The combine tends to break a lot of them, and they are wasted.”

“The only time we get caught picking them too green is if we have [bad] weather coming,” he adds. “Sometimes you have no choice.”

Harvesting is obviously important, he notes; but after harvesting a slow drying process in the wagon really increases the quality of the kernel.

Enlist a good consultant to boost crop size

John Lane says choosing a good scout is one of the most important things a peanut grower can do to get consistently high yields. He’s lucky, he says, because he feels he has a good crop consultant — who also happens to be his brother-in-law, Webster Harrell. Before the season starts, the two of them sit down at the kitchen table and map out the strategy for the crop year.

Lane says there are a lot of good crop consultants available; like farmers, most scouts who have survived the consolidations of the past are likely to be very good ones, he says. And crop consultants who have maintained smaller operations have some special advantages; the fact that Harrell hasn’t expanded so much, he says, has helped his company keep its “personal touch.”

But if you are looking for a good crop consultant, how can you find one?

“Do your research,” Lane says. “Talk to the growers in your area and gauge their opinion of their scout.

“Also, look at their record,” he adds. “Take Webster, for example. He’s scouting for people who often win the yield championships in the county and state, sometimes year after year. I don’t think that is luck. When that happens, somebody’s doing something right.”

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CHANGE YOUR PARTNERS: John Lane, a peanut grower in Gates County, N.C., breaks up his fungicides by applying different products each time he uses one. The idea, he says, is to keep resistance from developing.

This article published in the May, 2010 edition of CAROLINA-VIRGINIA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.