Hard Work and a Good Nap Jordan V-C News Column Peanut Notes No. 28 2024

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This is my column for the next issue of V-C Peanut News.

Hard Work and a Good Nap

David Jordan

This past spring one of my favorite uncles passed away (I have seven favorite uncles but all with unique experiences.) I thought a lot about what I learned from my Uncle Yates. He was a peanut farmer for decades, and many of his traits and work ethic have been passed along to the next generations. He was a member of the ton-and-a-half club the year I was born, and their family’s peanut yields have always been near the top. A testament to hard work and trying new things. A lot of my time and that of my sister was spent at Aunt Mary and Uncle Yates’ house running around with Jean and Jane. Before I jump into information on peanuts this spring, I will share a few quick stories. Jack Bailey once told me that we are just here to tell a story. Here comes a few. The first one is about the title of this column. I don’t remember many times when my uncle wasn’t working, and when he was, he was always hard at it. I think that is the reason he sat in his favorite chair at night and would fall asleep quickly. He even worked at trying to stay awake, but the nap was calling after those long days and it seemed to always win. It didn’t matter who was sitting around the den or how many people were there, his eyes were heavy and they often closed. A take home from this could be that when you put in a long day at work, you have a sense that you have done all you can. You can rest. This seemed to be the case for my Uncle Yates. I’m sure he was exhausted too. The second story is still a little embarrassing for me to tell, but it helped me a great deal. It’s a story I will never forget. One summer morning we (my mom, sister and I) helped Uncle Yates put in a barn of tobacco. Well, my sister and mom helped. I decided just run around and use tobacco sticks as a toy gun, a sword, or maybe a baseball bat. I didn’t do much work. At lunchtime, when it was time to settle up, I got about three dollars. Everyone else was well into double figures because they had put in a morning of work. I can’t remember what I thought back then, but I think it was mostly a feeling of lost opportunity. Since that day, I have always worked a little harder just to make up for that morning, especially if I was around Uncle Yates. There were plenty of days when I helped him get up wheat straw or peanut hay and put in tobacco in his bulk barn. I helped Ward Hoskins hang his stick barns at about the same time. I can’t get that lost morning back, but I worked at gaining his respect and Ward’s too ever since that morning. I appreciate the example my Uncle Yates set when it comes to working hard. It has helped me in life. When Dr. Bill Fike, a professor at State, would ask us to interview farmers for a project, I always turned to Uncle Yates. I also remember talking with Paul Williams and Mr. Chesson at the John Deere place. I gained a real-world perspective from these folks. One time I diligently cleaned out a water trough around Uncle Yates’s barn. When I filled it back up with water, I noticed that the angle of the trough was off. It wouldn’t hold 100% of the water that normally went in it. I just let it go. To this day, I would argue with Uncle Yates that we didn’t need to dump the water, set the trough up correctly and then fill it up again. Of course, that argument has always stayed in my head. It was like answering my dad at the woodpile or porch just before bedtime when he asked me if I wanted to get some wood for the stove – it was a rhetorical question. As I opened the backdoor to go out, I would answer the question – no, I really don’t want to get some wood. The answer was never in earshot. It seemed like Uncle Yates was wasting water, especially knowing that it would eventually be empty again and that that would be a good time to get the angle of the trough right. But just maybe he was giving me a lesson about the importance of doing things right the first time. Years later, a colleague introduced me to the saying, there’s never enough time to do it right but there’s always enough time to do it over. When I do my “do overs” these days, I sometimes think about that water trough. In my role as peanut specialist, I always needed my “A game” when talking peanuts with Uncle Yates. Sometimes those conversations were harder than my prelim questions from professors during graduate school. The closest I ever came to being a cowboy was when Uncle Yates delivered a steer to our house for the 4-H livestock show. The steer busted straight through the other side of the barn shelter and over to Uncle Tom and Aunt Laura’s field. Uncle Yates told me to get in the back of his pickup truck on the toolbox, and try to get a rope on the steer. It’s probably a good thing for both of us that it went across Highway 37 and into the big woods. What a moment.

So how do these stories tie into peanuts? One lesson is that we can, in most cases, take a good nap or get a good night’s sleep, if we put in an honest effort and do all we can to be successful. I have a quote of mine that is outside my door in Williams Hall. It reads, if you don’t work hard, you may not go as far as you could have; just because you work hard doesn’t mean you’ll go as far as you want to [I think that was made in reference to baseball.] I have another quote from a colleague in administration – It’s better to work smart than to work hard. Or maybe smart and hard is best. I’ll let you know when I get around to doing both at the same time [send me an e-mail and I will let you know the source.] Part of hard work is smart work. Timeliness is such an important part of smart work. Knowing what you need to do and when you need to do it are the first steps. Then you have to put things in place. A few days ago we had our first “Third Thursday at Ten” Zoom meeting with NC State Extension peanut agents. We talked about the challenges growers face relative to profit when input costs are high. One topic that came up was what, if anything can be cut from the budget for peanuts. As a friend once told me, some folks grow their way to profit and others save their way to profit. Both groups are trying to get to the same place. There is a fine line between the two views. What can you leave out and what needs to stay in? Here is my list:

  1. The entire field needs to be at a pH of at least 5.8. If you are using a single sample to represent a field, lime to get to pH 6.2. That will go a long way to making sure the entire field is at least at 5.8. High pH is less of a problem for peanuts than low pH.
  2. Inoculate for nitrogen fixation no matter what your rotation history is. Use an in-furrow product. Peat-based inoculants help, but performance is less uniform. If you are in new ground, apply inoculant in the seed furrow and apply peat-based inoculant in the hopper box. You need insurance.
  3. Establish four plants per foot of row across the field. Do not go below four. This means you will need to plant at least five seed.
  4. Consider adding a tracking system when you plant. Accurately tracking rows at digging pays, especially if you are planting in flat ground or reduced till.
  5. Make sure fields are weed-free when the peanuts come up no matter what tillage system you are in. Applying more herbicide early in the season (incorporated, preemergence, and early postemergence with contact and residual partners) is the best approach. You will have less yield loss and you will be able to control weeds more effectively this way compared with having to chase weeds with postemergence herbicides later in the season.
  6. Apply systemic insecticides in the seed furrow to control thrips and be ready to apply acephate soon after peanuts emerge if you need to. Be timely. You are late in the game if the terminals are brown or black from thrips damage. Be careful with paraquat applications if you have significant thrips injury. We do not need to take a yield hit with the combination of thrips damage and paraquat injury.
  7. Outside of inoculant and systemic insecticides, you need to be careful about what you apply in the seed furrow at planting. Ask questions. Do not set the crop back or do anything that jeopardizes a stand. It is very important to make sure you do not create a problem.
  8. Apply gypsum on all Virginia market types toward the end of June. Try not to be too early.
  9. Apply boron and manganese in a timely manner. Make sure you are getting enough of these with the formulations you buy. Don’t pay for convenience alone. If your pH is on the high side, don’t be late applying manganese and consider adding some before you plant.
  10. We are in a situation where we have no insecticide to control southern corn rootworm. Do not chase the adults with multiple insecticide sprays to try to control the worm. This will not help. Many of our fields are at low to moderate risk for this pest.
  11. Develop a good fungicide program and be timely with applications. Rotate modes of action. If you have fields with a history of Sclerotinia blight, do not apply chlorothalonil more than twice during the season. With this field history, include a Miravis plus Elatus spray somewhere in the program. If you only want to spray this once, move it to the second or third block. If you have fields that routinely have this disease, sequential applications three weeks apart will really help. However, practice good resistance management with one or two sprays of a different mode of action after Miravis plus Elatus sprays. If you do not have a history if Sclerotinia blight, there are less expensive options for leaf spot and stem rot. Maintain your fungicide program well into harvest season, especially if we have poor weather conditions.
  12. Think hard about whether or not you need a second prohexadione calcium spray, or a first one for that matter. Do not hurt your peanuts if they are stressed due to dry weather. This PGR can help us but it is relatively expensive and under some conditions, it can hurt us.
  13. Make sure you know what can be mixed together. Do not take chances on mixes that have not been tried before.
  14. Check maturity in early September to make sure nothing slips up on you. Try to dig as close to optimum maturity as possible. It really does pay. Checking maturity two or three times will help you fine-tune digging. Keep your ground speed and the inverter action synchronized. Try to have your acreage and number of diggers optimized. Don’t go too fast.
  15. Harvest as quickly as you can. Nothing good happens the longer peanuts stay in the field. This is where getting the balance between acres and harvest equipment is important (One more Uncle Yates story. I think when I was very young, I asked him what equipment one needs to farm. His focus was on harvesting. Make sure you can get what you grow harvested when it is ready.)
  16. What about products outside of typical herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, prohexadione calcium, and inoculant? Just be cautious. Ask someone for data on how peanuts respond. If the information is hard to follow or the promise of performance seems a bit high, ask someone outside of the sales loop to help you sort through the information. We need to be careful here. We can spend a lot and not gain much.
  17. Establish a good rotation for the peanut crop. Peanuts need some help with pathogens and nematodes. A good rotation sequence will in many cases break pest cycles and increase yield. In many cases, the cost of production will be lower.
  18. Many new things come along with promises. Some may turn out. Some will not. When money is tight, investment in proven things seems to me to be the best approach. The list above almost always brings a positive return on the investment when growing peanuts. The list can also help you protect yield from damage or poor control of a pest.