Peanut farmers are cool folks

To use a popular Southern word ‘slaying’, I’m fixing to go to the Southern Peanut Growers Association annual meeting at the Edgewater Beach Resort in Panama City Beach, Florida — all in all there are worse places to be in mid-July.

The meeting is held every year, same time, same place. My primary purpose for going to the meeting is to introduce this year’s Virginia-Carolina winner of the annual Peanut Profitability Award.

The Peanut Profitability Award is the brain child of my long-time friend and colleague Paul Hollis. The idea was quickly embraced by the peanut industry and has been generously supported over its 14-year history by a loyal group of companies that do business in the peanut industry.

The heavy lifting on selecting winners for the award is Marshall Lamb, who heads the USDA National Peanut Lab. This is not a yield contest, far from it, and the winners truly exemplify all that is good about farming.

I get a chance to visit the winners from the Virginia-Carolina belt, spend a half day or so on their farm and get to know them better than time allows me to spend with most of the farmers I interview and write about.

The first winner I worked with is Landy Weathers. If the name sounds familiar it might be that Landy’s brother is Hugh Weathers, Commissioner of Agriculture in South Carolina. Or, it may be that Landy is one of the most well-known and respected farmers in the state.

From a production agriculture standpoint, it may be more important that Landy is the father of Landrum Weathers, a bright, young farmer who has a few awards in his pockets and many, many more to go in his career. Though I don’t have much of a vote, I think it would be cool if Landrum were to win the award in the future, making for the first father-son team to win.

This year’s winner of the award is Jart Hudson. If you think his name is catchy, try his home town, Turkey, N.C. Jart grew up on a small, and I mean really small farming operation in Turkey —  the town not the country.

He took a few years off to get a degree in agricultural business from North Carolina State University and returned to build a farming empire that includes a large swine operation, co-ownership of a made-for-farmers peanut buying, grading and storage facility, not to mention a few thousand acres of row crop production.

Some of the folks who work with Jart on the farm were there when he was born. James Junebug Faison, for example, is a true historian of peanut production in North Carolina, and one of the many interesting people who help make Jart’s business operations a success.

I seem to run across past winners of the award when I’m looking for innovative stories to write. For example, Bud Bowers, who won the award last year, is a guru of sorts on irrigation of cotton and peanuts. In truth, Bud’s son, Corrin, is the engineer of the family and came back to the farm in Luray, S.C., to bring a new era of high tech farming.

Bud and Corrin would be another good opportunity for a father and son team to be Peanut Profitability winners.

Todd Lewis won the award in 2007. I’m hoping to visit with him in a couple of weeks to learn more about an innovative new irrigation system he is building on his large farming operation, which is ironically located adjacent to North Carolina’s Great Dismal Swamp.

Just across the border from Todd is John Crumpler in Suffolk, Va., another former winner, who started farming much later in life, and has proven that you don’t have to be born into a farming operation to be successful in building and running one.

All the past winner that I’ve gotten to know are first and foremost outstanding farmers, outstanding stewards of the land, and interesting folks — in my era ‘cool folks’.


TAGS: Peanuts
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