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"As far back to the 1980s, I had been wanting to grow peanuts," says Mississippi farmer Joe Morgan, "but they were still under the government quota system, and it was hard to buy or rent quota from established growers. We were doing well with soybeans, making good yields, but couldn’t get enough land for it to be an economical crop. Peanuts offered more profit potential per acre."
In 1990, M&M Farms was able to get 45 acres of quota and they've been growing the crop ever since — with 800 acres in 2012.
JOE MORGAN, right, and his son, Joe Jr., grow peanuts, cotton, and corn on their 2,350-acre farm in south Mississippi.
Peanut marketing a challenge
Their peanuts are contracted with Golden Peanuts. “They furnish trailers to us, and we deliver to the West Bay buying point at Wilmer, Ala., about 80 miles away. Until 2002, we did our own hauling to Andalusia, Ala., a bit over 200 miles away, but now we have a trucker who does the hauling for us.”
Contracts vary widely from year to year, he says, and often in the same year. “Peanut marketing is always a challenge, insofar as what kind of contract is offered and for how long. We usually have all our expected production under contract before planting. When peanut prices shot up in 2011 after the Texas crop failure, we were lucky enough to get some of our production contracted at the $1,000 per ton high.”
But with a U.S. surplus from the big 2012 crop, Joe says, it’s expected contract prices this year will drop significantly, although “things may be a bit better than expected as a result of the short crop in India last year and the demand that created in China for U.S. peanuts.”
The Morgans plant peanuts anywhere from late April to early June, but prefer to plant in early May.
“A wet fall is something no peanut grower wants to see,” Joe says. “That can cause significant crop losses. Our soils are classed sandy loam, but they border on the heavy side for peanuts. If the weather’s dry for a month or six weeks, the ground gets so hard we can’t get a digger in it, and if we get a heavy rain, it can keep us out of the field four or five days — you just don’t want to lose that kind of time at harvest.
“The fall of 2010 was so dry we couldn’t dig part of our peanuts. Our landlord agreed to let us pump water from a nearby pond, so we strung aluminum pipe from the pond to the field to run our hard hose system. After applying the water, we were able to harvest our peanuts. We normally get about 30 to 40 acres on a set of digger blades, but that year a set would last only about 7 acres.
“Fall 2012 was wet when we started digging and we were losing peanuts. But thankfully, the rain quit, the weather was ideal, and we harvested our highest yield ever.”
Their most challenging decision with peanuts, Joe says, is determining when to dig. “We badly need a method to more accurately evaluate this. Research on new methods and technology is under way, and we’re hopeful something more accurate will be available in the near future.”
The Morgans follow a strict rotation program for their crops, and he says that even though they’ve been growing peanuts more than 20 years, “diseases haven’t been getting any worse.
“Rhizoctonia limb rot used to be a problem, but our biggest problem now is white mold. We try to follow a two-week spray schedule, as long as weather conditions are favorable for disease development. Sometimes though, weather will interrupt our spray schedule and we can have some yield reduction.
“There are no aerial applicators in this area any more, so we have to use ground equipment or arrange for a spray plane to come down from the Jackson area.’’
With their mild winters, Joe says, “almost every known weed thrives here. Most of our weed problems are behind corn, and morningglory and sicklepod are the ones we deal with most.
“Thus far, we’ve had no weed resistance problems, and no pressures that we can’t handle with available chemistries. We don’t have a lot of pigweeds, but we’re careful to get them out and not let any go to seed. It’s probably just a matter of time until seeds come in from somewhere else and we start seeing resistance.”