“Center pivot irrigation changed our thinking, and now underground, drip systems are improving efficiency, cost and labor. Last year, we grew the best peanut crop of my career using underground drip irrigation,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest change in peanut production has been in peanut harvest technology. The improvement in peanut harvesting equipment and techniques has made dramatic changes on peanut growers, buyers and end users.

“Back in the 1960s, peanut harvest might have run from August to November, but in most years, the vast majority of our peanuts were harvested by September, because that’s when our part-time labor, mostly college students, went back to school.

“I remember one year we actually harvested some Spanish peanuts in July. Now, some growers are still planting peanuts in July.

“All these changes in harvesting peanuts shortened the harvest season from 12 weeks to about six weeks now. Putting so many peanuts into the system changed things dramatically for shellers, blanchers, and on down the production line,” Chastain said.

“Up until 1977, the peanut program was status quo. After that there was still some quota, but the two price system put an end to buying and selling peanuts the way it had been done for decades.

“Everyone in the peanut business, from growers to shellers, had to change to survive. Since that time changes have come fast, and those who could adapt quickly enough survived and those who couldn’t change didn’t make it,” the peanut buyer said.

“We used to ship peanuts in one size — 125 pound boxes. Now, we ship in every imaginable size, up to containers that go directly to a port of shipment overseas,” he added.

Perhaps his greatest lesson in change in the peanut business came as a result of the 1980 drought, which produced a high percentage of Seg III peanuts. “At that time, we knew how to clean up Seg III peanuts, but it was illegal to do so. We actually were forced by U.S. laws in place at the time to import peanuts, a high majority of which were Seg III peanuts, and clean them up for sale to end users — that was legal,” Chastain said.

“Ten years later we had another drought and another poor quality crop of peanuts. This time around we could clean up the domestic crop and sell to end users.

“That put a high value on political changes that have subsequently saved the peanut industry in years like 2010, when we had a record high percentage of Seg III peanuts,” Chastain said.

rroberson@farmpress.com

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