Micromanaging isn’t a bad thing when it comes to growing peanuts. Just ask Al Sudderth, who averaged 6,494 pounds per acre this past year.
His achievements led to his selection as the 2010 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award winner for the Lower Southeast Region.
“We’re a small enough operation that we can be precise in all we do, so you could say we micromanage our crop,” says Sudderth, who farms in southwest Georgia’s Calhoun County. “We calibrate our equipment each week during the season, and we’re always in the field on time, weather permitting.”
In addition to 460 acres of peanuts, he also has 800 acres of corn, and 200 acres of cotton. All the peanuts are on a four- and five-year rotation, a program he has followed for many years.
He farmed in partnership with his father, Alvin, from 1989 until 1996, when he began managing the row-crop operation and his father began running 10 poultry houses.
Another part of the operation is Lizard Lope Lodge, offering duck, quail, hog and deer hunts for about 60 days during the farm’s off-season.
Sudderth says he has followed in the footsteps of his father, who was a long-time yield champion in Georgia.
“We’ve been fortunate to keep up our yields with the help of new varieties,” he says, adding that his entire acreage this year will be planted in the GA-06G cultivar.
He tries to begin planting towards the end of the window recommended by the Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus Index or Peanut Rx.
“We’ve been extremely pleased with GA-06G, in both yield and grade. We had poor weather conditions during harvest last year, and we were afraid of what some our yields might be. In one field, I’m sure we lost 1,000 pounds because the rain set in and peanuts lay on top of the ground for three to four weeks.”
For controlling peanut diseases, he utilizes a nine-spray program, including a combination of Abound, Tilt/Bravo, Provost and Bravo 720. The last application of the season might not be made in some years, depending on weather conditions.
Sudderth’s peanut weed control program begins with Dual and Sonalan, coming back with Storm, 2,4-DB, Gramoxone and a surfactant. He then follows with Basagran and 2,4-DB, if needed to target specific weeds. This year, he’ll be using Valor to help out with a beggarweed problem.
“We haven’t had a problem yet with resistant pigweed in peanuts. We’ve seen some in our cotton, but less than 2 percent. It has helped that we have stayed with our yellow herbicides for so long, along with the Dual. It should help us by going with Valor in peanuts.”
Sudderth plants a cover crop on his peanut land for erosion control and conservation purposes, and then turns it under. He plants twin rows. The entire peanut crop is under irrigation, mostly center pivots, using both surface water and wells. He grows Foundation Seed for McCleskey Mills.
“We’re not using a formal irrigation scheduling program,” he says. “We’ve used some soil probes in the past. Peanuts are like corn — you know how much water the crop needs at certain stages of growth, and you make sure it gets it. We have more than 20 rain gauges placed throughout our farm, because we might get 8/10 inch in one location and 4 inches at another.”
Sudderth scouts all of his crops for insects on a regular basis. “For the past two years, we’ve had more trouble with worms — foliage feeders — and we’ve had to make multiple applications. We sprayed for worms three times last year.”
Even with one of the worst harvest seasons in recent memory, Sudderth’s 6,494 pound yield per acre average in 2009 was his best ever. “Our highest yield before year was 5,700 pounds. I give most of the credit for last year’s success to the GA-06G variety. It held up even with the poor harvest conditions.
“Improved varieties give us a yield advantage, along with things like twin rows, rotation and irrigation. Variety is what is really getting it done for us now. In addition to a high yield, last year’s crop graded well, at an average of 79. We even saw some 82’s for the first time.”
When peanuts become completely dry, it’s difficult to separate them in the combine, says Sudderth. “I’d rather be harvesting peanuts at 18-percent moisture and dry conditions — that’s when we can do an excellent job with almost no losses. Last year, when they got down to 9 percent moisture, we couldn’t separate them. We windrowed the peanuts and picked them again with a hay rake.”
Listing his keys to achieving efficiency in peanut production, he also mentions the value in recent years of converting from diesel power to electricity.
“We’re in the process of completing this conversion. We’re now at about 85 percent all-electric over 1,500 acres, after beginning the conversion four years ago. Another cost savings has come from the use of drop nozzles on our center pivots, which we began installing 10 years ago, even before cost-share assistance was available.”
Auto-steer systems on two of his tractors also have helped to increase efficiency, especially with digging peanuts, says Sudderth. He also places a large value on his labor — four full-time employees, including one who also works at the hunting lodge during the off-season.
“All our workers specialize in something. One does all the irrigation and spraying and has over 20 years’ experience. Another plants all the corn and cotton and has been with me, and with my dad, for 30 years. Our man who plants and digs peanuts has been with us for more than 30 years, and another runs the lodge during the off-season and helps on the farm.”
The hunting lodge seemed like a logical next step, he says, since his father had always rented out a large portion of his hunting land.
“This gives us the opportunity to do a better job of managing the property. A lot of people would rent the land but not use a quality deer management program. Having the hunting operation allows us to better utilize our land. Before, we would maybe get a crop every third year from our bottomland with drain tiles. Now, we flood it with rice, grain sorghum and corn and do an early release on mallard ducks. We’re getting an income from bottomland that previously would wash out.”
Last year, Sudderth began nighttime wild hog hunting excursions, and it has proven to be a very successful venture. “Four years ago, wild hogs destroyed a portion of our corn crop, so we started investing in night vision equipment for hunting them. It took only one year to pay for our first night-vision scope. We’ve reduced our hog damage from 10 percent to 15 percent to about 3 percent.”
Sudderth and his wife, Suzanne, are the proud parents of three daughters — Anna Grace, 6; Ava Christine, 5; and Vivienne Joy, 2.