Over the next 10 years, he gradually increased his farrow-to-finish operation to 500 sows, one of the state’s largest swine operations. When hog contracting became popular and there were fewer markets for independently raised hogs, Wannamaker realized it was time to diversify.

Row crop farming seemed the logical fit, but it was hard to find good farmland to rent in 1995. He had to forward pay land rent — something not commonly done in the area — just to convince landowners to take a chance on renting him their land.

After three years of farming 300 acres, one of the top growers in the area, J.D. (Pally) Wiles of Ft. Motte, S.C., was looking for someone to rent his land.

“Mr. Pally was willing to give me the opportunity to fulfill my dream of having enough land to justify buying the equipment I needed.”

Since then, Wannamaker has built his farming operation to about 3,000 acres. In most years he grows cotton (more than 1,000 acres annually), peanuts, and corn.

Prior to the end of the federal peanut program in 2002, there had been only a few thousand acres of peanuts grown in South Carolina. When the program ended, Wannamaker and three other farmers had the foresight to renovate an old, rundown soybean processing facility and start a peanut buying station at Cameron, S.C.

Getting into the peanut business in 2003 began a series of what some would consider risky business moves.

Two years later, Wannamaker and another group of farmers purchased a cotton gin, at a time when many wondered how much future cotton had in the Southeast. (Ironically, his family had owned and sold a cotton gin at St. Matthews, and the gin which he currently serves as president was the primary competitor for his family’s gin.)

“When we purchased the gin, it had been closed for four years,” he says. “People thought we were crazy, because there were five established gins in the area. At first we ginned our own cotton, and a very few customers. Over the last seven years, we have increased the business one grower at a time.”

In addition to the risks involved on the business side of cotton, he contends with the yearly risks of growing cotton.

“The improvement in varieties has probably been the biggest change in cotton production during my lifetime in cotton,” he says. “From a base of two or three varieties just a few years back, we now have many options that allow us to fit a specific variety to a specific piece of land.”

Wannamaker has been doing variety trials for Deltapine and provides feedback to the company as it evaluates new varieties to bring to the market each year. Last year, he did similar variety trials for Stoneville and Phytogen.