Producing 5,700 pounds of peanuts per acre is just part of the success story of Suffolk, Va., farmer John Crumpler — the 2009 Peanut Profitability Award winner for the Upper Southeast.
Good stewardship of the land that includes planting cover crops, no-tilling his grain crops and careful rotation of crops and pesticides are all part of being a successful farmer, but when it comes to peanuts in Virginia, high yields and high quality are essential to profitabililty.
Crumpler, unlike so many successful Virginia farmers, is not carrying on long generations of farming tradition. He has been around farming most his life, but from a number of different angles.
He tried full-time farming early on in his career. He participated in a successful farming operation, but philosophical differences in the partnership took him out of production farming for a while. That experience, he says, is a big factor in any successes he currently has in his farming operation.
The Virginia grower also cites the sage counsel of a number of current and past agribusiness associates as playing a role in giving him the confidence he needed to get back into full-time farming.
Crumpler worked for many years as a fertilizer salesman and operations manager, working for Alliance Fertilizer of Suffolk. During that time he worked for Don Fritz, a well-known industry leader in fertilizer and farm chemicals. That whole business experience, he contends, gave him the confidence to try production farming again.
When he was approached five years ago by Suffolk, Va., farmer Bobby Rountree, Crumpler says he looked at the farming partnership with more of a business approach than an emotional approach.
“Bobby wanted to step back from the business end of farming, but didn’t want to get out of it all together. We have had a wonderful working relationship the past few years. He goes at farming as hard as or harder than I do,” Crumpler says.
Together they have averaged over 4,700 pounds of peanuts per year for the past four growing seasons. “I understood when I got back into farming that growing peanuts for a profit in Virginia requires high yields. You have to balance input costs against yield, but you have to have high yields to survive,” Crumpler says.
High yields for the Virginia grower started with a comprehensive planning session with Virginia crop consultant Wendell Cooper. “I knew I wanted to stay in the 120-acre to 150-acre range for peanuts. Wendell and I sat down and looked at the best fields I had for peanuts and how this land worked out rotation-wise for peanuts,” he says.
“The next step was picking the right variety for the land we chose to plant peanuts on.” Crumpler says he had grown NCV-11 the previous years, and he felt he needed something new to give some earliness and some different production characteristics.
Using a four-row planter it took four to five days to plant his crop. He chose Champs as a companion variety to his trusted NCV-11. Champs, he says, performed as well as NCV-11, but no better. Champs was no earlier, he says, which left him still looking for a second variety.
This year he planted Phillips in addition to Champs and NCV-11. Choosing varieties, he says, is more of a function of yield and quality potential rather than disease resistant qualities. “We also try to choose a variety that has some drought tolerance because we do not have irrigation as an option.
“We know we are going to have to fumigate our peanut land, and we do everything we can with fungicides, fertilizer and weed control to get our peanuts out of the ground fast and growing healthy, so disease resistance has not been an issue,” Crumpler explains.
“Cylindrocladium black rot is a constant disease threat, so we put down Vapam and that gives us some help with nematode control. We use Temik in the furrow to help further with nematodes and to keep early-season insects down. And, we know we will use Omega to help with sclerotinia,” he adds.
Provost is a fungicide that Crumpler uses for a couple of reasons. First, it does an excellent job of controlling stem rot and leafspot. It also gives him a different mode of action, reducing the likelihood of resistance problems.
“Provost is a good fungicide and the more we can learn about using it, the better off we will be, if we’re not able to use Vapam in the future,” he says.
Peanut growers in other parts of the country would likely be shocked at the cost of disease control in southeast Virginia — at least that needed to produce 5,000 pounds of peanuts per acre.
Crumpler clicks off the per acre costs — $40 to $45 for Vapam. $40 to $45 for three applications of Provost. Omega is in the $30 to $35 range. Add in additional leafspot control and Apogee, and you have $150 to $175 per acre just for disease control.
Apogee is a growth regulator used primarily to help growers delineate rows and help make digging more efficient. Crumpler says for him it is a part of his disease management program because the smaller plants allow better airflow and the concentration of peanuts around the taproot exposes the crop to less stress and less disease pressure.
He applies only a partial rate of Apogee and applies it when the row middles get close to touching. On some acres he uses it twice, but only on land that is most prone to excessive growth, or when rain is expected during critical growth periods.
On some acres there was additional costs for disease control, including an application of Topsin on a few acres where botrytis problems popped up. In 2009, he added another fungicide cost by using an in-furrow application of Proline.
“Even though we put Vapam down on all our peanut land, we are looking at Proline because of all the uncertainties about future use of Vapam and other soil fumigants. We used a liquid form of Opti-Lift, so we put the Proline in the furrow with the soil innoculant. The more we know about how to use Proline and how it works under our production system, the better off we will be, if we can’t use Vapam in the future,” the Virginia grower says.
Crumpler also uses a high seeding rate and a twin-row planting pattern to help produce high yields. He typically plants six seed per foot, with three on each side, which comes out to 150 to 170 pounds of seed per acre.
“The seeding rate is critical because so many of the current varieties tend to put on a high percentage of peanuts next to the taproot. Getting seed in the ground properly and getting them up and growing quickly will be a big benefit at digging time,” Crumpler says.
He uses a slightly different philosophy of weed control, again based on an overall plan of getting peanuts up and growing before they face any stress from natural enemies or from pesticides.
When peanuts crack the ground he applies Gramoxone and a half rate of Pursuit and comes back over-the-top with 1.5 pints of Dual per acre. After that it’s tailor-made herbicide programs in fields where the cracking time applications break down. Additional grass herbicides like Select or Poast typically go on with fungicides sprays.
If Temik breaks down and thrips show up in a field, Crumpler is quick to take out the tiny insects with a shot of Orthene. Thrips vector tomato spotted wilt virus, which Crumpler says he can’t afford to battle, because of all the other diseases threats to his peanuts.
Having a good crop consultant is a key to growing high-yielding peanuts, the Virginia grower says. “Wendell is a long-time friend and colleague, and someone I trust to help us manage whatever challenges come up. He researches new products and helps determine how they will apply in our program. We don’t always agree on what needs to be done, but I simply couldn’t do all the things I need to do on the farm without him,” Crumpler adds.
In addition to growing peanuts, the Virginia farmer grows 1,300 to 1,400 acres of corn, wheat, full-season soybeans and double-crop soybeans.
Making the decision to get back into farming full-time was one that Crumpler’s wife, Terri, a middle school social studies teacher, has supported all the way. They have one son, Robert, a Virginia Military Institute baseball player and 2007 graduate. Robert, recently married, lives in Lexington, Va., and works with the Institute’s alumni association.