If you want to read about the “average” U.S. farmer, you can take a look at the recently released U.S. Census of Agriculture. But, if you want to read about the great diversity that is U.S. farming, take a look instead at this year’s Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award winners.
The deserving growers each represent a different peanut-producing region of the United States, but that’s not their only difference. They also represent different generations, and the growing conditions they experienced this past year ran the gamut from bone dry to soggy wet. They’re a true microcosm of U.S. farming, in all of its glorious variety.
The elder statesman of the group is the upper Southeast honoree, Billy Bain, a well-known Virginia farmer who also has the distinction of being the recipient of the first-ever “Mr. Peanut Award,” sponsored by Planters Peanut Company. During a farming career that has spanned parts of six decades, he has also won Virginia’s top environmental and conservation award and was the 2009 Virginia Farmer of the Year.
Billy is a third-generation farmer who began helping his mother to manage the family operation when he was in junior high school, after his father died. Following a stint in the Army, he went back to the farm, beginning with 200 acres. He now grows about 3,500 acres, including peanuts, cotton, corn, soybeans and wheat. In addition, he raises beef cattle.
In the middle, age and generation-wise (where I like to consider myself, at least for now), is the lower Southeast Peanut Profitability Award winner, Owen Yoder of Orrville, Ala. Farming in the south-central region of the state, Yoder doesn’t have a drop of irrigation on his farm, but that didn’t matter in 2013. Whenever he needed rain, he got it.
Yoder has been farming full-time since 2006 and could be considered a relatively “new” grower in terms of peanut production, having grown his first crop in 2011. But his father grew peanuts years ago in Georgia, so he’s not a complete stranger to the crop. A diversified farmer, Yoder also grows cotton, soybeans, grain sorghum, corn and wheat, in addition to running a few cattle.
And then there are the young guns – Isaac, John and George Guenther of Gaines County, Texas, who share this year’s Southwest region Peanut Profitability Award. They range in age from 25 to 30, a testament to the bright future of U.S. farming. They certainly present a lesson in perseverance. While they received only 5 inches of rain on their farm in all of 2013 – with 3 of it falling during the growing season – they still made their best overall average peanut yield at 6,680 pounds per acre on 465 acres. It took a lot of irrigation, to say the least, but it was still an efficient crop, achieved by managing other inputs carefully.
The brothers also keep overhead costs at a minimum by doing most of their own work. They do all of their own planting, plowing, digging, harvesting and mechanical work. They built their barn, dug the wells for irrigation systems, did the electrical work, and built their homes. The three farm together as I&J Farms, working 1,500 acres of land, mostly cotton and peanuts. They average rotating peanuts every three years but sometimes available water and rotation history may stretch or shrink that interval.
Congratulations to the 2014 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award winners – all different, but all achieving the same level of excellence in peanut production efficiency.