Farmers are active members of their communities. They help their neighbors get crops out of the field during harvest and advise one another on managing issues that may be impacting their plantings. Some farmers take their communal advocacy a step further by accepting leadership roles that benefit the industry at large.
Dan Ward of Clarkton, N.C. is one of those leaders. He is a seventh-generation farmer who has spent a lifetime helping to advance peanut research and promotions by taking time away from his farm to serve as a farmer representative on various industry boards and committees. We sat down with Ward, a former xChairman of the National Peanut Board, to find out what inspired him to spend as much time in the board room as he does in the field. We also asked about some of the challenges and opportunities facing the industry when it comes to production research.
What motivated you to get into leadership within the peanut industry, and what are some of the positions you’ve held?
When I was 28 years old, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in the Philip Morris Agricultural Leadership Development Program. It was a two-year program that really opened my eyes to the opportunity and responsibility of farmers to have a voice in public policy as it deals with agriculture. After that, I participated in the Zeneca peanut leadership program which continued my training and supported my interest in being involved in agricultural policy—especially peanuts.
Since then I have served in leadership roles on the North Carolina Peanut Growers Association (NCPGA) Board of Directors; the American Peanut Council’s sustainability and export committees; and the Peanut Research Foundation. I have learned so much about our industry and how everyone works together to promote U.S.-grown peanuts to the world.
I served 12 years on the National Peanut Board and am very proud to have served as the chairman. My personal motivation to be a part of the public policy debate has been expanded to levels I never imagined possible. With NPB's board members and excellent staff, they do influence the way the general public thinks about farmers and peanuts, and do an outstanding job of it.
You’ve had a lot of experience with peanut research initiatives. What research would you say has profoundly benefited peanut production the most over the years?
I think all of our research works well together to benefit peanut production. The disease resistance is no good if your product doesn’t taste good. Drought tolerance doesn’t benefit anyone if leafspot cannot be controlled. Aflatoxin research is necessary to continue to provide a safe product to consumers. There are multiple research studies looking into all these issues across the peanut belt, and they all work together to improve peanut production. The genomics research and breeding using marker assisted selection should help us remain competitive with other crops and other countries that produce peanuts. And it will help us adapt to new challenges much more quickly in the future.
What are some challenges to peanut production that you would like to see researchers address?
The biggest challenge today is for peanut production to remain profitable. Our researchers understand the challenges we face and are constantly looking for ways to reduce inputs and improve yields. Another challenge is being able to adapt our production practices once we start to see benefits from disease resistance using new approaches to traditional breeding.
What advice would you give a young peanut farmer to help them be successful?
Every peanut farmer should realize that we are judged by our quality and that we want people to enjoy eating our product. Taking pride in your peanut production will make it so much easier for customers to return.
How do you plan to keep your family farm going in the future?
We plan to hopefully keep the farm profitable so there’s something here for another generation to enjoy and work with. The challenges today may be different than the challenges for tomorrow. We want the farm to remain flexible so that if other agricultural opportunities present themselves, we can take advantage of them.
Any additional thoughts to share?
I would like everyone to know how good peanuts are, and why we’re proud to grow them. Nutrition and sustainability make them an important crop for our future. The flavor of peanuts is unmatched, and the ability of peanuts to aid in the world hunger crisis is by far one of our greatest successes yet.