Maximizing Yield

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There are some questions about maximizing peanut yields given the high peanut price. Hopefully everyone will have better than average yields and can take advantage of the high commodity prices in general but more specifically peanuts. Here are a few observations or thoughts you can pass along if that question comes up.

  1. The recommendations we have been making in general and for many years, while designed to optimize returns, have for the most part been designed to optimize or maximize yield. There are two philosophies (probably more) but one is that you “save your way to profit” and the other is you “spend your way to profit.” I know excellent farmers that view these approaches very differently. From my standpoint, when we recommend something it is really focused on yield. Peanuts have always been a high value crop, even in the lean years of the mid 2000s, and our recommendations on thresholds for disease or insects and weeds essentially have been designed to protect yield. For example, weather –based advisories developed by Jack and improved and built upon by Barbara have never been designed to put peanuts at risk for yield loss and have been in place to make sure we maximize yield. They have been designed to get to optimum or maximum yield less expensively. That thought process holds if peanuts are sold at $500/ton or $900/ton. Insect thresholds would fall in the same category and honestly this applies mainly to armyworm and earworms. Lorsban, spider mites and rootworms are a bit different in that flaring mites and loosing yield from root worm damage can have significant impacts on expense. But regardless of price, we don’t want to protect peanuts from rootworms when there is no risk of damage because of how that could cause much larger issues with spider mites. We know thrips damage will decrease yields so we always recommend (although options are listed) in-furrow products and foliar sprays if needed. We have thresholds but we seldom consider them, in part because we know the value of in-furrow products. With respect to weeds and peanuts, I think every dollar you spend on herbicides (unless you spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars just for fun) generates numerous dollars in return. So bottom line, on essentially all of these pest management issues, is that we hope to maximize yield under virtually any pricing structure.
  2. The same can be said for fertility issues. The basic nutrients and soil pH need to be appropriate regardless of price. I have discussed the possibility (with David Hardy at NCDA&CS) of looking closer at peanut fertility recommendations. The calibration curves used currently were developed many years ago with older varieties when our yield potential, on average, was less than 3000 pounds/acre. With the excellent work in Tom’s (Isleib) program supported by PVQE (peanut variety testing program) we are now at a higher yield level on a consistent basis. So, fertility recommendations need to be reconsidered (but this is not cheap to do.)
  3. 3. It certainly won’t help this year, and I know I get picked on at times for “doing another rotation trial,” but having good solid agronomic rotations increases yield and decreases cost for peanuts. Naturally the economic value of other crops plays a role in the decision of rotation length and sequence, but the reality is that good agronomic rotations pay huge dividends, and apparently we need to be reminded of this more often than we think.
  4. There are questions about what can be done form this point forward. Would nitrogen help? My answer is no (irrespective of peanut price) if peanuts are green and nodules are active. If peanuts are yellow and nodules inactive we needed to be addressing this if peanuts were priced at $350, $500, or %900 per ton.
  5. There are a number of products sold by distributors that have various ratios of micronutrients and other constituents. I would put spending money on those lower on the list compared with other points I am discussing in this note.
  6. We are almost past the timing for Apogee and this product is almost impossible to get. It is expensive but it will often pay dividends on digging efficiency (if you are not using GPS to dig) and pod retention. I will get to digging at the very end but Apogee is valuable to the grower that lets peanuts get as mature as possible. The reason it is hard to get Apogee is because it is used in the apple market and the grass seed market in the Pacific Northwest and other areas. The number of people spending money on Apogee for peanuts is small compared to the grass seed market (reduces lodging) and distributors in the peanut region don’t want to carry the inventory. So, when you talk to growers, and I will try to remember to do so this spring, if they like what Apogee does they need to order it early. It is expensive but it has a good shelf life.
  7. 7. From a disease management standpoint I would do a good job of protecting vines well into the fall. This does not mean make applications every week but it does mean do a solid job managing disease and protecting vines so you have the greatest flexibility in digging.
  8. 8. This leads me to the final point. The single most important thing a grower can do now, whether peanuts are contracted at $650/ton or one stands to get $1000/ton on extra peanuts, is to be as precise in digging as possible. I have thrown out a lot of numbers relative yields if you dig a week before optimum digging or a week after. I do not think 5 to 10% less yield when digging too soon or too late is way off. This is where you can make the most money and pay for a lot of inputs (translating into greater profit regardless of price.) And, this is where you as an agent can have perhaps the greatest impact in your county program with peanuts (I know most of you already know this and were running pod maturity clinics when I was still in rice country.) So how does the farmer make the most of this? One thing to do is to protect vines from disease so that you have the greatest flexibility in digging. The challenge very often is that growers have so many acres there is a feeling that “I have to start sometime in order to get the crop out.” I get that thought and it makes plenty of sense. But if we are not looking at maturity and digging as timely as possible, we are losing out, and if the price stays up, we are potentially missing out on a rare opportunity for higher profits than we have enjoyed in a long time (since I have been involved with peanuts.) This would be a good year to consider investing in one more digger, even a two row digger and paying a dependable person to run it (there might be some experienced folks trying to catch a brim or white perch right now that wouldn’t mind getting back in the peanut field this fall for a week or two.) The only way to be timely when you have a lot of acres is to have bigger equipment (6 row digger) or to have extra people and smaller equipment to get the job done. The extra capacity, regardless of how you approach it, might save a farmer 200 to 300 pounds/acre on numerous acres if they dig a week early or a week late. If these peanuts are sold at $1000/acre then this could be $100 to $200 per acre (if you have a two-week difference in either direction you are talking about “real money” at that point.) In my mind, digging when peanuts are at optimum maturity is the key, so spending extra time or energy to determine when that is (county agents or consultants) and creating more flexible digging and harvesting capacity as outlined above is where I would focus from this point forward.

Article first appeared as North Carolina Peanut Note (PNNC-2011-040)