Farming is an enterprise based on all kinds of variables, requiring tenacity and resilience. Some years are more difficult than others due to weather, volatile markets and external forces peanut producers are unable to control. Still, these stewards of the land continue to plant, cultivate and harvest their crops day after day and year after year. Why? Because farmers are in the business of hope.
It’s been said that farmers are the ultimate risk-takers, and many farmers would wholeheartedly agree. We talked to three millennial farmers about why they’re willing to take the risk of farming — and why they’re hopeful that in the risk-taking, they will find the rewards.
In the eastern part of Virginia, Westley Drake is the crop production manager on his family farm in Newsoms. The Drakes grow a mix of peanuts, cotton, corn, soybeans wheat and cattle.
“I believe the greatest days of peanut farming are still ahead of us," Drake said. "Each new day brings the promise of different ideas, innovation, solutions to challenges, and young farmers who will inspire and lead our industry into the future.”
While he knows many traditions won’t change, such as “the simple practice of placing a peanut seed into the ground in the spring and reaping the harvest of that peanut plant in the fall,” he believes ever-developing innovations and technologies are the hope for the future.
“Through research funded by organizations like the National Peanut Board, there will constantly be new techniques and technology introduced to help make growing peanuts more efficient and more sustainable.”
And according to Drake, technology is not the only way to foster optimism. People will factor into the future success of farming.
“One of the most exciting things about the future of peanut farming is the number of young farmers who are stepping up to the challenge of leading our industry into the future," Drake said. "Not only do they constantly strive to become better peanut farmers, but also strive to better educate consumers about the relatively simple practice of growing peanuts, in a relatively unpredictable world.”
In southwestern Georgia, millennial peanut farmer Casey Cox believes the future of the peanut industry is bright. Cox makes conservation and sustainability her passion, and she is the sixth generation of her family to farm along the Flint River Basin near Camilla.
“As consumers become more focused on environmental sustainability and nutritional wellness, peanuts are well-positioned to remain a classic staple of our diets,” Cox said. “Innovation within the industry - including emerging technologies, varieties and practices - continues to increase on-farm efficiency and propel peanuts forward into the next generation.”
Along the panhandle region of Florida, millennial farmer Ashby Massey, along with his wife Mikaela and in-laws Michael and Lisa Davis, farms thousands of acres of peanuts, cotton and timberland pines.
While the Davis family has been farming for seven generations, Massey is new to the profession. He recognizes the value veteran farmers can have in connecting with those newer to the profession to answer questions and offer advice. It can make a significant difference in sustaining the peanut crop for years to come.
"With this being my first-year farming on my own, the one thing that’s helped me stay optimistic about the future is talking to farmers who have been in my same shoes when they were first starting out," Massey said. "It’s been helpful to have local veteran farmers offer their advice especially during these uncertain times.”
Despite the challenges they face, farmers young and old have staying power because they believe in tomorrow. Ultimately, farmers understand that while the land they cultivate is theirs for the span of their lives, it also belongs to the next generation.