What is in this article?:
• Through ups and downs of peanuts, Billy Bain has remained steadfast in his stewardship of the land and for giving back to agriculture more than he takes from it.
• After living through the good times and the bad times of Virginia’s peanut industry, Billy Bain is optimistic some of the good times will return.
VIRGINIA GROWER Billy Bain is one of three winners of the first Naturally Remarkable Planters Award.
Share innovative practices
The Planters award was created as a way to highlight and share innovative farming practices within the peanut community — encouraging others to take part in sustainable agriculture projects of their own.
“The farmers’ innovative solutions in environmental and social practices are a perfect extension of Planters own sustainability journey — from reducing our packaging footprint by 84 percent in a glass to plastic conversion, to achieving a zero waste to landfill target at our facility in Suffolk, Va.,” notes a Planters spokesperson.
The other winners of the first annual award are Hawkinsville, Ga. peanut farmer Barry Martin and Seminole, Texas grower Otis Lee Johnson.
Bain has not only lined his trophy case with yield championships, including a Dinwiddie County winning total of 4,930 pounds per acre last year, but also with environmental awards. Good stewardship of the land, he contends, is beneficial to both the land and to producing high yielding crops.
Strip-tilling is now a common production practice across the peanut belt, but Bain was the first to try it in Virginia.
“I have a friend who farms just across the line in North Carolina who grew no-till peanuts, and I adapted what he was doing to our farm and started strip-tilling several years back,” Bain says.
“The first year, I planted a 12-row strip of peanuts using strip-tillage, then I went to an acre, to five acres, and then I knew it was sustainable, and I went to strip-tillage on the whole farm,” he adds.
In more recent years, Bain says he has gone to a four-year rotation on his peanuts. “It’s a primary reason our yields have been improving over the past few years.”
In fact, long-time Virginia peanut marketing guru Dell Cotton says 2011 was a record year for Virginia peanuts.
Once his peanuts are dug, they are slow dried to keep quality high. He comes back and smoothes the land and plants a cover crop of wheat. Much of the peanut hay is harvested and used to feed hisAngus beef cattle.
All these extras, he says, are small pieces of the puzzle that have allowed him to have any successes he’s had over the years in the peanut business.
Though the USDA totals state Virginia peanut growers produced more than 3,900 pounds per acre, Cotton contends, once the final totals were added in, for the first time in history the Cavalier State actually averaged more than 4,000 pounds per acre.
In the future, Bain says competing in a global market is going to be tough for peanuts.
“I feel like in the most current trade agreements, peanuts were the big losers. Other commodities did gain, but for the American peanut farmer, I feel like we came up on the short end of the stick,” Bain says.
“Our peanut breeders have given us really good varieties to plant and researchers have made big improvements on how we can manage diseases.
“I don’t see any great technological breakthroughs revolutionizing peanut production, but I think we have the tools in place to get the job done and to continue to produce high quality Virginia peanuts,” he adds.