By Caroline Young Bearden, MS, RD, LD, RYT
In 2016, Hurricane Matthew affected peanut farmers up and down the East Coast in ways that run the gamut. Some like Georgie Griffin, president of Leggett and Gurganus Peanut Company in North Carolina, paid a price. “We are about 15 percent short of what we projected and the quality is very low,” Griffin said.
He said they lost their highest quality peanuts after Matthew because they were more mature than others and decay more quickly.
And Neal Baxley of Baxley Farms and an alternate for South Carolina on the National Peanut Board, said they lost over 1,000 pounds of peanuts per acre and had more than 20 inches of rain in less than 24 hours during Matthew.
“We were really caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Baxley, who also said he bought extra diggers, or harvesting machinery, this year. “We worked long hours and got as many peanuts dug prior to Hurricane Matthew as we could.”
Others, like Dan Ward, National Peanut Board member from North Carolina, were hardly affected.
“We had a very little bit of damage,” Ward said.
He said there were trees down, some erosion issues and ditches filled with sand, but none of it affected their peanut crop significantly.
“Luckily for us, we did not have flooding we have to deal with,” he said.” “We had a few peanuts moved around and knocked off but as far as major, it wasn’t.”
However, these three peanut farmers have one thing in common, regardless of the impact of natural disasters like Matthew, and that is faith.
“We have to trust in the almighty to get us through these problems the best we can,” Griffin said.
Preparations for anticipated disasters on the peanut farm are difficult because of the uncertainty of it all, according to all three farmers.
“As farmers, we really don’t know. That’s part of the nature of our business. That’s the way it always has been,” Baxley said. “We’ve just got to have faith that everything’s going to work out and try to prepare for it …. We’ll make it through one way or another.”
He said they chose to dig before Matthew this year because their peanuts were already matured.
“Right at harvest, [we are] most vulnerable,” Baxley said. “We had to make the determination of whether they [peanuts] would fare better in soil or go ahead and dig them.”
And Griffin said it’s a gamble to dig ahead of the storms or leave the peanuts in the ground.
“It all depends on the type of land,” he said. “If they aren’t mature and not on really wet land, then you dig after [the storm].”
Ward said it helped to maintain a drainage system year-round on the farm.
“We spend every winter making sure ditches are cleaned and flowing properly,” he said. “So when you do have a storm and flooding, at least our farmland can drain as fast as possible, and you don’t have flooded areas.”
Additionally, Ward said he has followed an old rule of thumb since he was younger, to help produce the highest quality peanut possible: “Put peanuts on the best parts of the field,” he said.
“You always put the peanuts up on your highest, best-drained land and you’re more likely, in a wet fall, to have those peanuts up on a sandier land … You will not have flooding or [peanuts] sitting under water,” Ward said. “You [also] have a strong faith and good insurance.”
And he said he feels for his partners who have not been so fortunate. “We are counting our blessings.”
Despite their losses, Griffin said he feels grateful.
“We were fortunate to save what we did save,” he said. “It’s out of our control.”