In celebration of Got to Be N.C. month we are featuring local farms and businesses and their products that are Grown. Raised. Caught. Made. here. To kick things off, we focus on Grown and highlight peanut farmer Ray Garner of Garner Farms in Halifax County.
North Carolina has about 5,000 peanut farms that produce 292 million pounds of peanuts each year, which ranks the state fifth in the nation in peanut production.
Ray Garner grows about 230 acres of peanuts on his farm in Halifax County. His family has been farming in North Carolina and Virginia for more than 300 years. The current farm, run by Garner, his dad and uncle, produces peanuts, wheat, soybeans and more than 1,700 acres of cotton. “The land we farm now has been in the family since my great-granddaddy bought it in 1900,” Garner said. If his children decide to follow him into the family business, they would be fifth-generation farmers. “If they would like to farm, I hope they really try and make a go of it,” he said. “I would help them be successful.”
“Getting started in farming is hard,” Garner said. “You almost have to have relatives in the business to be successful. Farming is expensive, it takes a phenomenal amount of capital to farm and it is hard to find land. A tractor can cost about $200,000 and a peanut combine is around $140,000.” Garner said for those who want to go into farming, coming from a farm family is an advantage, but he has seen others break into the business by choosing a mentor that farms and working with him. “Sometimes a farmer’s children will decide not to go into the business, in cases like this a farmer might look to train someone outside the family to take over the operation. I’ve seen this happen.”
Garner attended N.C. State University and earned his degree in agronomy, but he believes farming also takes experience that you only gain on the farm. “The only thing that helps you be ready to run your own farm is experience and common sense; you can’t farm by the book.” During growing season, Garner works six days, spending 60-plus hours a week in the field and even more doing paperwork once he’s finished in the fields. “Some of the challenges we face every year include having enough land to farm and the weather. My wife jokes about how much I watch The Weather Channel,” he said.
For peanuts, the soil is prepped in early spring and peanuts are planted the first of May. Garner plants about 130 pounds of peanuts per acre. Summer is spent managing the crop and protecting it from insects and diseases. In late September, the peanuts, which grow underground, are turned up and left to dry in the field for about five days. After drying, the crop is harvested and delivered to a nearby buying point where they are graded by N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspectors.
Most of Garner’s peanuts are purchased by Golden Peanut Company, which has a regional office in Ahoskie. Golden Peanut Company prepares the peanuts by cleaning, shelling (if needed) and storing the peanuts before they are sold to end users. The peanuts are shelled at the company’s shelling facility in Aulander. Most North Carolina peanut farmers grow the Virginia-type peanut that is often sold as cocktail peanuts or the in-shell peanuts that are popular at ballgames. Virginia-type peanuts have a large oval shape, reddish brown skin, and are among the largest peanuts grown. The Virginia Carolina Peanut association says the average person eats about 12 pounds of peanuts annually.
Some of Garner’s peanuts are sold overseas as well. Demand for North Carolina products is increasing in the global marketplace. “It is truly a world marketplace for agriculture,” Garner said. “But that also means prices on the global market affect prices for our commodities in North Carolina.” In 2012, total agricultural exports were $3.7 billion, a 189 percent increase from 2005. Earlier this month Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and staff from the department’s international marketing section visited Germany, Switzerland and England to promote N.C. agricultural products. “Demand for food worldwide is expected to increase by 60 percent by 2050,” Troxler said. “Through inbound trade missions, overseas trips and our NCDA&CS office in Shanghai we want Got to Be N.C. to be known internationally as a symbol of quality.”
Agriculture may not be the same as it was when Garner’s great-great grandfather started farming; he probably couldn’t imagine $200,000 tractors and sales to China. Times have changed and farming has changed but agriculture remains our state’s number one industry and it’s growing, in part due to the hard work of farmers across our diverse state who deliver quality whether it’s Grown. Raised. Caught. or Made.
Next week: Raised in North Carolina. We will feature an Edgecombe County beef cattle farm.