When south Georgia farmer Mike Nugent talks about the benefits of crop rotation, he speaks with some authority, especially considering that his 2007 peanut crop was the result of a 14-year rotation.
“I haven't grown peanuts in several years,” says the Coffee County, Ga., producer. “We did grow peanuts when I farmed years ago with my father and bother, and we grew them for many years. But when we got into the broiler business, we sold the peanut quota. We always made good peanuts, from 2 tons to 5,000 pounds per acre. But we thought the broiler industry was better than peanuts at the time, and it was,” he says.
Nugent's long-awaited foray back into the peanut business has earned him the honor of being named the 2008 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award winner for the Lower Southeast Region.
Nugent's farm consists of about 330 acres, with 240 of that being in pastures and cropland. He also has four broiler houses and runs about 140 head of brood cows.
“Last year, we had 55 acres of peanuts, about 80 acres of cotton, and the balance was in grass or grazing for the cows. Our cotton yields last year were about 1,420 pounds of lint per acre and our peanuts was nearly 5,000 pounds per acre,” says Nugent.
About 80 percent of Nugent's cropland is irrigated with center pivots.
Nugent uses his poultry litter for fertilizer, and he hasn't had to purchase very much commercial fertilizer over the years. “We didn't fertilize peanuts at all last year. We might put out 50 pounds of nitrogen on cotton at side-dress, and that's all it gets other than chicken litter,” he says.
He says a lot has changed since he last grew peanuts. “We had Lasso and dinitro for weed control, and we'd pull them by hand. We decided to grow peanuts again because the price has improved so, to more than $500 per ton. People told me that since I used to grow peanuts, I should try growing them again. Our County Extension Agent, Eddie McGriff, wanted to put in some peanut test plots, so we went ahead and added to those,” he says.
Nugent has planted 50 acres of twin-row peanuts this year, his first experience with this planting method. “I've heard about growers having problems with digging twin-row peanuts, but we're willing to try some this year. We have a problem with vine growth because of the fertility of this land behind all this chicken litter. We have a lot of rank vine growth, so we might have to do something to control that,” he says.
This year, Nugent will have 65 acres of peanuts, including a replicated plot where he's planting directly into rye stubble. “These plots give me the benefit of knowing what produces best on my farm — we've done cotton test plots for at least the past seven or eight years,” he says.
Nugent says his peanut planting system is as close to no-till as he can get it. “We do have to subsoil. When we first bought our planting rig, it was a strip-till unit, but we kept modifying it. Now, we disturb only a small area when we plant. If I could get by with less than that, I'd do it. Anytime we disturb the soil, we get weeds. In some of our thick rye stubble, I don't see how a weed could come up because it's so thick. We planted about three bushels of rye per acre and combined it. Then, we planted straight into the stubble,” he says.
Some of Nugent's rye is planted for grazing, and in other fields he pulls off his cows and harvests it for seed.
“We try and get three or four crops per year off the same land,” he says. “I'm not a really large-scale farmer, so I have to make every acre produce. We must have something year-round producing on this farm for me to make it. In other words, we have to maximize our potential.”
In another field that will be planted to peanuts this year, oats were planted and it was grazed, says Nugent. “The cows got the oats down pretty low. Then, we had a freeze in February and it killed the oats, so I planted peanuts into what was left. We'd like to have a heavy cover over all the land. I've noticed that the thicker the cover, the better the yields, and this applies to peanuts or cotton.”
He'll be planting about half of his peanut acreage in the AP-3 variety and the other half in Georgia Green. “I like Georgia Green, but the disadvantage is its susceptibility to tomato spotted wilt virus. The more cover we have and plant into, and the later we plant, the less risk we have to tomato spotted wilt virus. Last year, I had less than 1 percent, and if we had a hit of white mold, I didn't see it.”
Nugent sprayed for disease four times last year. “If we go back into a rotation of peanuts every two or three years, I don't know how well we will do. Right now, in the first year or two, I have some land that hasn't had peanuts on it in a while. They say that in the second year, you can get by about as well as in the first year — we'll see.”
Last year, he began spraying when the peanuts were about 60 days old, first with Headline at the recommended rate and then with Abound and Bravo. The third treatment was Abound and Bravo and the final spray was Bravo, all at 21-day intervals.
Like other farmers in the Southeast, Nugent endured extreme drought conditions in 2007. “We're pulling water out of a 15 to 20-acre pond. We also have a deep well, but we don't turn it on unless we have to. We had to turn it on and run it awhile last year.”
This year, Nugent says there has been more moisture at planting than in 2007, but rainfall still has been scarce, with only about seven tenths of an inch in May.
“We're finding that the biggest payoff to planting into a cover crop is that whenever it's dry, we can hold moisture, and it saves us on irrigation.”
Nugent began planting no-till about 12 years ago. “It ain't pretty, but it works, and it also helps reduce fuel costs.”
In another move to help hold down the high cost of fuel, Nugent has switched his irrigation system from a 200-horsepower diesel engine to a 100-horsepower electric motor. He estimates this has cut his cost of running the center pivots by about 40 percent.
For weed control, Nugent is using Valor behind the press wheel as a pre-emergence treatment, and then Valor, Strongarm, Prowl and Roundup for burning down.
“We're starting to have problems with glyphosate-resistant pigweed, especially on one farm. This year, we're increasing the rate of Prowl to hopefully take them out.” He uses Temik in-furrow for thrips control.
“We usually plant about six seed per foot. On twin rows, we planted eight per foot or four per row,” he says.
The key to maintaining profitability, says Nugent, is rotation. “I'm no better farmer than anyone else, but rotation is the main thing that keeps us profitable. We may be growing peanuts every three years, or we may move to a different crop in the future.”
Nugent, who has been farming essentially his entire life, beginning when he was in high school, says he works to keep down fixed costs by doing a lot of his own machinery repairs. He has one full-time worker who helps him on the farm. No-till, he adds, also has helped in keeping down costs.
“It all comes down to managing and staying on top of things. If you're not going to get it back, don't put it in the crop in the first place. You have to use common sense.”
Nugent and his wife Martha have two daughters, Christy and Tracy Unger.