⋅ BY CARROLL SMITH ⋅
Jake Teichroeb’s father, John, was part of a Mennonite community in Mexico that moved to west Gaines County, Texas, to pursue various agricultural occupations. The elder Teichroeb began as a custom harvester of wheat and cotton and eventually got into farming.
“As a little kid following Dad around, I grew up in farming,” Jake said. “That’s all I knew. In my early 20s, I worked for a short time for one of my brothers who was established in the irrigation business building circle pivots. But I soon realized I missed farming.”
While working in construction, the young Texan was always out in other people’s fields from the Rio Grande Valley to Kentucky and everywhere in between. As he learned about different crops and production techniques, he knew farming was in his blood, and he needed to go back.
“When Dad got a little older, he offered to lease the farm to some of my brothers and me,” Jake said. “There wasn’t enough land for all of us, so my brother, Poncho, and I split the farm in half in 2005, and the other brothers found land to rent somewhere else. Prices were fair, and it was a rainier time, so we were making good crops and doing well.”
The two brothers began looking for more land, but the competition was heavy in Gaines County. When 640 acres became available in Dawson County, Jake and Poncho worked out a deal that resulted in Jake farming the Dawson County property and Poncho taking over Jake’s half of the family land in Gaines County.
“I was lucky enough to be surrounded by some older farmers in Dawson County who were getting ready to retire and didn’t have kids standing in line to take over,” Jake said. “This allowed me to pick up land, mostly in Dawson County, pretty much every year since I started farming. Although I let the family land go in Gaines County, I did end up picking up some more land in that area.
“Today, we run a 12,000-acre operation — some irrigated, some dryland. Our primary crop is cotton, and we also have peanuts and cattle. We raise winter wheat for the cows and collect some of the seed to grow a cover crop to protect our cotton the next year.
“My oldest son, Clay, who is 20, is working for me on the farm now. I will eventually move Lane, 18, and Malachi, 16, out here as well. Right now, Lane is working at the peanut plant, and Malachi is still in school.”
Cotton And Peanut Rotation
As his father had always done, Jake rotates cotton and peanuts. He said the system most farmers use around there is to plant peanuts where water is available and put cotton on the dryland. The exception is where the dirt is not that good for peanuts, they will plant cotton and irrigate it.
Gaines County is often called peanut country, and Dawson County is known as cotton country.
“The reason for this is that cotton tolerates salinity in the water pretty well, but peanuts do not,” Jake said. “The quantity of water on my Gaines County farm is no better than it is here in Dawson County, but the water quality is better so the peanut crop in Gaines County is beautiful compared to the one in Dawson County.
“At times, I’ve been laughed at for farming peanuts in Dawson County. A man once told me, ‘You’re trying to grow peanuts in cotton country,’ and he has a good point. That’s why I typically have about a third more peanut production per acre in Gaines County.”
In 2021, Jake planted almost 100% to PHY 480 W3FE on his cotton acres.
“Unlike this year, in wetter years when there is underground moisture, and you know you stand a chance of making a dryland crop, 480 is a good one to plant,” he said. “It does well on my farm. Last year, my average yield for 480 was 1,300 pounds per acre. We also had a PhytoGen test plot with an experimental variety (now available as PHY 411 W3FE), and it did really well. It may be one we switch to on our better, irrigated land.
“One of the reasons I grow PhytoGen cottonseed is that it is the best I’ve ever seen when it comes to vigor. When I plant my cotton, I chase moisture. If I have some underground moisture, I put the cotton in a little deeper to make sure I am in a good moisture bed.
“But if I get a rain on it and the sun comes out the next day and it is hot, it’s like pouring a layer of concrete over your cotton. That happened to me last year, but I didn’t have to replant all of those fields. That’s when I became a big believer in PhytoGen’s vigor.”
The West Texas farmer said choosing the right variety for your farm is critical. He considers numerous factors when making his variety choices and relies heavily on the research done by Scott Fuchs, his PhytoGen cotton development specialist.
“If Scott tells me a certain PhytoGen variety is good for my area, I am going to plant some of it,” he said. “I also make sure the varieties I plant are nematode resistant.”
Herbicide Resolves Challenges
The primary nuisance weeds Jake has to contend with in his cotton crop are pigweed and tumbleweed. When pigweed developed resistance to glyphosate, and the population exploded, he couldn’t find enough people to chop them out of his fields.
“The weeds were growing faster than we could contain them,” Jake said. “I had to walk away from some fields because we lost control. I was discouraged and wondered if it was time to quit farming. Then the Enlist weed control system was launched, and I started using it. Enlist herbicides killed the grass and tumbleweeds, as well as pigweeds. This gave me a whole new outlook on the farming business.”
Another challenge Jake faced in his cotton and peanut rotation was having one half of a circle in cotton and the other half in peanuts, so the rows touched each other. Over the years, he knew he would burn and kill some cotton rows and some peanut rows because of the different herbicides used on each crop. 2,4-Db was used to kill weeds in peanuts but would damage any cotton it drifted onto. On the other hand, herbicides used to kill weeds in cotton damaged the peanuts.
“One of the main reasons I switched to PhytoGen varieties is the Enlist herbicide technology,” Jake said. “When the Enlist weed control system was launched, it made my life a lot easier because I am essentially using a form of 2,4-D on both crops. If Enlist drifts on peanuts or 2,4-Db drifts on cotton, there is no damage. That herbicide system saved my career.”
To make his peanut operation more sustainable, Jake and two other farmers established Trico Peanut — a peanut buying point and a sheller — in 2015 in Seminole, Texas.
“The way it works is the farmer sells the peanuts to a buying point, and then we shell them, clean them up, put them in 2,000-pound bulk bags and sell them to consumers,” he said. “We are mostly Virginias, which are not grown for peanut butter. We found a market for them, and it works for us.”
In a move to become vertically integrated, the partners recently started a new business called Texas Roasting Co. next door to Trico.
“Now we are the farmer, the sheller and the roaster,” Jake said. “We have a manager who runs the business. Right now, we grow a lot more peanuts than the roasting company can handle, but we hope one day to get to the point that the company can consume all our peanuts.
“This past year when we were preparing to launch the company, I spent a lot of time over there building the business and marketing our product. Once we are consistently roasting and turning out packaged, branded product, I can step back some. But while the company is in development, I need to be hands on.”
A Five-Year Plan
Jake said this year was a tough one because of the drought — the worst he has seen during his farming career, including 2011. Following a season of challenging environmental conditions can make it difficult to mentally prepare yourself to move forward and plan for the upcoming season.
“It worries you,” he said. “This was a rough year, but last year was very good to us. I’ve always said, ‘Never farm one year at a time. Farm five years at a time.’ I’ve seen years where I couldn’t pay the bank back and had to finance something to finish up.
“Because we had a good year last year, I paid off as much as I could to build some equity and looked for ways to minimize my expenses. Then when another rough year comes around, we can survive it.”