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For peanut producer Steve Seward, crop rotation, diversity and a strong fungicide program help keep disease in check and yields consistently high.
STEVE SEWARD farms a diverse mix of crops and cattle about 25 miles north of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Managing disease long term
To manage disease and fertility longer term, the Sewards rely on diversity, crop rotation and double-cropping.
They follow a peanut crop with oats or ryegrass, run cattle and come back the following year with cotton or corn. “About 50 percent of our peanuts are on a two-year rotation and the rest are on a three-year rotation,” Seward said.
The Sewards purchase small calves at around 300 pounds, then process and condition them. “We raise summer calves on bahiagrass and supplement them with oats. In the fall, we feed oats, plant ryegrass immediately following peanuts or cotton, and they’ll graze on ryegrass all winter. The bulk of them will be sold in May. Most of them leave here weighing around 750 pounds. The land is then rotated to peanuts or cotton.
“The cattle are just like a winter crop. We’re growing ryegrass and selling it through the cows. When we fertilize the ryegrass, we’re also fertilizing the following crop. So we’re spreading our risk out. We’re also putting a lot of organic matter back into the soil with our strip-till.”
The Sewards make three applications of potash and phosphate – in the fall on ryegrass where they intend to double-crop into peanuts, another time in February and again when the ryegrass dies back and they plant peanuts. “Residual is building up in our grass and in our organic matter and as it decays, it’s feeding our crop through the summer. We think that helps us,” Seward said.
The Sewards understand that disease management is the most important cultural practice for a peanut producer. “A piece of land that hasn’t had peanuts on it will probably yield 20 percent more than land that’s had peanuts grown on in the preceding 10 years. That’s primarily from disease pressure. You don’t realize until you get into the business how much disease pressure does affect you.”
The Sewards say new peanut varieties are helping producers manage disease better. “They are more tolerant to disease. And they’re also better yielders and better graders,” Seward said. “And that’s where the research and breeding pays off.”