“It was something of a gamble, with peanuts at only $400 a ton at the time, and growers who were completely new to the crop. But the long-term outlook here was good, particularly in view of declining water supplies in the Texas panhandle and disease problems and urban sprawl in the Carolinas and Virginia.

“Mississippi has more peanut acres this year than Virginia, a long-time major production area, which has been hurt by diseases and urban sprawl.”

Atkins himself says peanuts played a role in a career change for him and a cropping change on their family’s farming operation.

“I was raised on our farm, where we grew mostly cotton. When the bottom fell out of the cotton market, we knew we couldn’t survive on loan rate cotton and looked for an alternative. We started growing peanuts and have done well with them — they’ve helped keep the farm in business.”

After earning his degree in agricultural engineering technology and business at Mississippi State University, Atkins was Extension agent in Lowndes County, Miss., for 12 years before joining the Birdsong operation.

He and his wife, Misti, also have a store, MS Peanut Supply Co., at nearby Aberdeen, which sells diggers, combines, chemicals, and anything related to production.

“We buy in bulk and pass the savings on to our growers,” he says, “plus they don’t have to go long distances to get what they need.”

“This year will be important to the future of peanuts in the Mid-South, Atkins says. “If growers have a good year and feel good about their peanut experience, they’ll increase acres in the years ahead.”