Peanut growers recognized for breaking records

Published 8:33 am Wednesday, March 4, 2009

COURTLAND—It takes a heck of a peanut to weigh a ton. What about two tons?

Either instance would break all known records. But that’s impossible, of course. Last week, however, more than a dozen local farmers were recognized for breaking more realistic records, resulting from the best yields for peanuts in recent memory.

Southampton County Extension Agent Wes Alexander hosted his annual Two-Ton Peanut Awards recently at the Courtland Ruritan Club. Thirteen growers were awarded for averaging at least two tons per acre for peanuts grown last year. The top producers, a father-son team of Jay and Brian Darden from Newsoms, averaged 5,274 pounds across their 146 acres.

“This is the highest average I’ve seen in my 30 years as extension agent,” said Alexander. Unlike other crop yield contests, the peanut average is based upon all of the acreage a grower plants, making the two-ton minimum criteria even harder to achieve. “It’s a real honor to be a winner in this contest,” he added.

Approximately 7,700 acres were planted to peanuts in Southampton last year. Based on crop yields provided to Cooperative Extension, about 30 percent of the county’s peanut acreage harvested more than two tons. “Considering that some growers did not submit yields, it’s feasible that as much as 50 percent of our peanut acres yielded more than two tons,” Alexander said.

The Dardens were presented a trophy by Alexander and Dell Cotton, executive secretary of the Virginia Peanut Growers Association. The remaining 12 award winners received plaques commemorating their achievements.

“This was the best crop of peanuts I’ve seen in my life,” said Jay Darden. “Of course, the weather cooperated. But if you look at the crowd of people here, and they all know what they are doing, it has got to feel good to win the top award. I just happen to be the lucky one.”

Cotton praised the group for their successes. “I congratulate all of this year’s award winners, particularly Jay and Brian,” he said. “They are consistently among the top producers in the county, which is a tribute to the attention to detail they show in raising a crop of peanuts.”

Many of the award winners are from the Newsoms area, “Home of the Jumbo Peanut,” where rainfall was most regular during last year’s growing season. Southampton farmers grow Virginia-type peanuts, most often used in gourmet products or sold in-shell.

Many of the growers discussed the recent salmonella outbreak that involved peanuts processed at a plant in Georgia. “It’s important to let people know it’s safe to eat peanuts from our area,” said Rebecca Drake, of Sandy Ridge Farms in Newsoms, a point Cotton has stressed recently in his role with the Growers Association.

The remaining farmers recognized for their two-ton harvests include B&R Farms, Drake Brothers Farms, Walter F. Drake Jr., A. Earl Johnson, Foxhill Farms Inc., David Dunlow, Sandy Ridge Farms Inc., J.B. Thorpe III, George T. Drake & Son Inc., Joey Johnson, Plank Road Farms and Roger Gray Jr.