North Alabamians tour Pike peanut fields

Published 8:26 pm Friday, July 16, 2010

A trailer load of young leaders from Limestone and Morgan counties visited Pike County Thursday to learn more about peanut farming and the role it plays in the economy of Southeast Alabama.

The group was made up of rising high school juniors and seniors who applied for the agriculture tour that was funded through a schools’ grant program.

Some of the future community leaders live on farms while others are city dwellers, but not one among them knew much about how peanuts are grown and harvested.

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They visited Kevin Ward’s peanut farm on Highway 10 just north of Brundidge and were amazed by what they saw and learned.

“I live in the city and have never been involved in any type of agriculture,” said Gregory Hacker, West Limestone High School.

“I’ve been amazed at all that goes into making a crop of peanuts. It’s much more scientific than I thought and the amount of equipment that it takes is unbelievable. I now have a greater appreciation for the peanut farmer.”

Brandon Dillard, regional agronomist for the Alabama Extension Service, explained to the group why peanuts a good row crop for the southern regions of the state.

“We have a sandy soil that is much easier to work than the hard clay soil that you have in the northern part of the state,” he said. “And, too, we have a longer growing season. Frost on the peanuts would mean that the nuts would only be good for oil and that would be a big loss in dollars to the farmers.”

Ward, who has been farming for nearly 30 years, explained the peanut growing process to the eager listeners and how the peanuts are harvested.

“These peanuts were planted 60 days ago and I’m just starting to irrigate them,” he said.

“They’ll need water up to about 120 days and I’m pumping about 500 gallons a minute.”

To that, several members of the group whistled in astonishment.

In answer to a question, Ward said his irrigation source comes from a 12-acre pond that is being heavily drained by ol’ Mother Nature. “Water is most important to peanuts as it is to any crop. But rain needs to come at certain times and needs to stay away at others.”

Ward told of the woes of the peanut farmer and how the number of acres of peanuts planted has dropped dramatically in recent years.

“At one time, we had about 25,000 acres of peanuts planted,” he said. “Now, there probably are no more than 3,500 acres here in Pike County.”

The young leaders had an opportunity to see how pretty a field of peanuts can be and also to learn the cost, physically and financially, of producing a bumper crop.

Brady Peck already has his hands to the plow and plans to always be involved in some area of agriculture. He is growing soybeans, a good crop for North Alabama but one that doesn’t grow as easily or as well in the southern regions of the state.

“My dad doesn’t farm anymore but my granddad and great-granddad were farmers and it’s in my blood,” Peck said.

“This has been an interesting tour.”

Betty Ann Broman, county extension coordinator for Limestone County, said the five-day agricultural tour has been an eye-opening experience for most of the young leaders.

“They have learned a lot about our state and gained a greater appreciation for those who grow our crops and produce our products,” she said.

The group toured the Golden Flake facility in Montgomery, the Farmers Market in Birmingham, a catfish farm in the Black Belt, International Paper and Bush Hog in Selma, the Child Development Center in Tuscaloosa, the Horticulture Center and Research facility in Clanton, Auburn University and the Hyundai plant in Montgomery.