For Michael “Mikey” Taylor and his father, Mike, peanuts have added a new dimension to cropping on their 6,500 acre Long Lake Plantation at Helena, Ark.

“Our first peanut crop was in 2011, when we planted 500 acres,” says Mikey. “We’d been hearing quite a bit about peanuts and my father knew some farmers who were growing them, so we became interested in the crop from a diversification and rotation standpoint.

“Our consultant, Ed Whatley, with Whatley Ag Service at Clarksdale, Miss., got us in contact with Brian Atkins with Birdsong Peanuts, and we contracted to grow for them last year.”

A national shortage of peanuts last year, due to severe drought in the Texas production region, drove prices as high as $1,000 per ton.

“I don’t think many growers actually got that kind of price,” Mikey says. “At the start of the season, when people were already planting, contracts were only in the $600 per ton range. We didn’t get $1,000 for our peanuts, but we got a good average price that we were happy with.

“We ended with a 4,200-pound yield average, and we were very pleased with that, given it was our first experience with the crop and that the national average was about 3,300 pounds. We’ve already booked a good portion of this year’s crop, but right now no contracts are being offered; everyone’s waiting to see how the season’s going to shape up and what kind of production the industry may be looking at.”

This year, the Taylors have almost doubled their plantings, to 900 acres. They are growing GA 06, the variety Birdsong specifies for its contract growers.

“About 75 percent of our peanuts are under center pivots,” Mikey says. “We made five circles with the pivots last year, applying about six-tenths of an inch of water each time. Some of those applications were to water in residual herbicides or following a fungicide application. But even though we had a lot of dry weather last year, there wasn’t a significant yield difference between the irrigated and non-irrigated fields. Peanuts seem to have a better tolerance for dry conditions than other crops. Right now [last week in June], we’re on our second circle for this year.”

Since peanuts perform better in sandier soils, he says, “We have to pick the fields where we’ll plant them — probably only about 50 percent of our acreage is suitable for the crop.

Read: A lot of uncertainties remain as to how 2012 peanut crop will turn out

Feature: Peanuts in Mississippi – it’s not just the good prices

“Last year, we started planting May 1, but this year, with the warm spring and a favorable weather outlook, we started April 21 and were finished May 1.

“This year, 60 percent of our peanut acreage is behind corn and 40 percent behind soybeans. As far as practical, we’ll try and follow peanuts with corn. We last grew cotton in 2006; after that, we grew only soybeans and corn.

“We started growing corn in 1996, and it has been a good crop for us. In 2007, we added storage bins with 330,000 bushels of capacity, which has been a significant improvement to our harvesting efficiency and our marketing.”

The Taylors purchased a peanut digger and two combines last year, all used, from a grower at Greenwood, Miss., and this year they bought another two used combines.

“Being new to peanuts, we didn’t want to invest a lot of money in new equipment,” Mikey says, “but we wanted to have enough harvest capacity to get the crop out of the field quickly — at that time of year you never know whether a hurricane will bring a lot of rain, or you’ll have a situation like 2009, when it rained for weeks on end.

“We’re probably a little heavy on equipment power, but because harvest is so critical with peanuts, we wanted to build in as much of a safety factor as possible.”