A look back on local farming history

Published 10:11 am Wednesday, March 21, 2012

by Dell Cotton

Recently I ran across a paper, which contained excerpts from “Peanuts and Applejack.”

Since this came out of the Southampton Historical Society newsletter, I am sure those folks could help me with the background on this title.

I picked out a couple of the excerpts and thought it may be interesting to relate some figures from then to now as we fight to maintain our rural and farming economy.

• From 1868, there was talk of a thrasher and cleaner, or a combine in today’s terms, that “as a labor-saving invention would be richly worth the small price demanded, $50 each”. I am sure this was a very simplified prototype of what the machinery is capable of doing today, but $50?

For comparison purposes, you can buy a couple of nice houses for what the new cotton picker costs, which spits out these round bales.

• From 1869, receipts at the port were quoted, which showed that 116,251 bags of peanuts were received at the port — 98,378 bags by railroad and 17,873 bags by river.

How we take truck transportation for granted these days, don’t we?

Further, the bags, at three bushels each and with a value of $2.50 per bushel, “were worth $871,883.” This was a huge amount in those days. This same weight at this year’s contract price would be worth a few million dollars.

• From 1869, “on light gray soils, with a free use of lime or marl, it asserted that 50 bushels of ground nuts to the acre can be raised, yielding $125 at last year’s price of $2.50 a bushel.

A great demand for the seed has sprung up in Eastern Virginia, and many persons are preparing to plant from 40 to 100 acres each.”

Just for comparison purposes, our growers last year produced two tons per acre and sold them at an average $650 per ton to yield $1,300 per acre. Of course, it took $1,000 an acre in expenses to raise them.

These excerpts show you the magnitude of change we have seen over time. However, what to me is important here is the fact that we do have the history. Peanuts were a significant part of the Southeastern Virginia culture 150 years ago, and we can proudly say they remain so today.

DELL COTTON is manager of the Peanut Growers Cooperative Marketing Association. He can be reached at dcotton25@vcpeanutdma.com.