“Farming conversations with me don’t usually go very far before we start talking about peanuts,” says long-time Dinwiddie, Va., grower Billy Bain.

Bain is literally “Mr. Peanut” in the V-C area, winning the first ever Mr. Peanut Award, sponsored by Planters Peanut Company. During his farming career that spans parts of six decades, he has also won Virginia’s top environmental and conservation award and was the 2009 Virginia Farmer of the Year. Now, he has been named the 2014 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award winner for the Upper Southeast region.

He is a third-generation Virginia farmer, who helped his mother manage the farm after his father died when Billy was junior in high school.  It took time away from the farm, serving in the Army, to convince him that farming was the right career path.

When he returned to the farm, he started on 200 acres, and the mainstay was peanuts.  Now, he farms about 3,500 acres and peanuts are still a big part of his farming operation.

In addition to growing peanuts, Bain grows cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat and raises beef cattle.

Cattle, like peanuts, have always been a part of his farming operation. “Being in the heart of tobacco country, some people have asked me why I never grew tobacco. My answer is always the same—because my father grew it,” Bain laughs.  The farm was once a dairy and much the same answer applies to why he didn’t follow that path, too, he adds.

A quick tour of the meticulously renovated 1850 circa Virginia farm house in which he lives gives one an insight into the success Bain has had as a farmer. From the refinished green tin roof, to the polished wood floors everything in the old house has a place.

Likewise on his farm, well-maintained trucks, tractors and other farm equipment show a similar attention to meticulous detail at B&B Farms in Dinwiddie.

Reflecting on his career in agriculture, the Virginia grower says he never thought he would live to see the day that soybeans, or any grain crop for that matter, would be more profitable than peanuts.

“We had a few bushels of soybeans left over in storage recently, and we were able to sell those beans for $15 a bushel. The increase in grain prices makes it hard for growers to stay in peanuts and even harder for new growers to plant the crop,” Bain laments.

As long as we can make it work economically, peanuts will always be a part of this farm, he contends. One way he makes it work is to combine peanuts and cows. He feeds peanut hay to his beef cows, noting that it is almost as nutritious for cattle as alfalfa and better than any other grass hay he has grown.

“We bale the peanut hay in large round bales, and when we get to pasture with it, we cut the strings and move it about 30 feet, then we pick it up, move it about 50 feet and set it down for the cows to eat. By doing it this way we virtually eliminate waste and get full benefit from peanut hay,” he explains.

Taking the crop residue off his peanut fields takes away some of the nutrients, but he it more than compensates in his rotation program. He follows peanuts with wheat to add tilth back to the soil. After wheat is harvested in the spring, he plants double crop soybeans, making full use of some of his best farmland.  Soybeans are followed by one or two years of corn or cotton, prior to putting land back into peanuts.