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Escambia County farmers take a cotton to peanuts

By By Connie Nowlin
Managing editor
Changes in the farm subsidy programs have made changes in the way area farmers do their jobs.
For example, there are about 6,000 to 8,000 more acres of peanuts this year in Escambia County than there were last year, according to William Henderson, executive director of the Farm Services Agency. That agency is part of the United States Department of Agriculture.
And while none of those Alabama acres belong to Kelvin Diller, he has the same reasons for changing from cotton to peanuts.
Diller, who lives in Walnut Hill, has some 2,700 acres in peanuts this year.
"I went with all peanuts. This is the first year of all peanuts, usually it's all cotton," he said.
But the market for cotton has been unprofitable, Diller said, and the new farm bill makes a profit with peanuts seem likely.
And since he had grown cotton for the last 13 years, Diller wanted a rotation crop for his land.
Many Alabama farmers are doing the same thing on this side of the border.
"Peanuts have a different nematode population than cotton," Henderson said. If a field is planted with a rotation crop for two years, the nematodes that lived on the old crop, in this case cotton, will die off. Since different varieties of the pest live on peanuts, when the crop rotates back to cotton, the same affect is achieved, the die-off of the nematodes.
But farmers did not gain any ground with weather by planting one crop over the other, since they both plant at the same time. Peanuts are harvested a little earlier.
"Last year started out dry and went to wet," Henderson said. "It was a horrible harvest." The fields were wet and some crops rotted where they stood because the ground was too wet to allow for the harvest.
"This year was wet early and some spots drowned out," he said. "But the crop is up in most places and excess early is better than no moisture early."
Diller agreed with that assessment.
"Excessive rain has low areas turning yellow, struggling to survive," he said.
But peanuts are more tenacious about emerging from heavy wet soil or hard packed soil.
"I've been pleasantly surprised that they (peanuts) have done as well as they have," Diller said. "They were set back some but if the weather will open up, they'll catch up."
A few areas had to be replanted after the heaviest rains, Diller said, but he would have had to replant many more acres if the crop had been cotton.
Overall, while he is pleased with the way the crop is growing, things are still difficult.
"The weather has gotten a lot more dramatic than it was in the '60s or '70s," he said. "It is a lot more extreme, whether wet or dry. And you have to accumulate more acres to be profitable," he said.
"It still a hard way to make a living."