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"I didn’t know the first thing about growing peanuts," says northeast Mississippi producer Greg Norton. "But in 2008, I decided to give them a try for the rotational benefit — plus, it looked like a potentially profitable crop. Some have said we’re too far north for peanuts, but the last two years we had record yields for both peanuts and our main crop, cotton. In 2011, we averaged 5,000 pounds of peanuts and 950 pounds of cotton. In 2012, for the first time ever, we averaged over 1,000 pounds of cotton, had another 5,000-pound year for peanuts — and got good prices for both."
GREG NORTON added peanuts to his northeast Mississippi cotton operation in 2008 and says the crop has been profitable, as well as offering rotation benefits.
This was the year Greg Norton planned to plant corn — he liked the price outlook and the rotation benefit for his main crops, cotton and peanuts.
But Mother Nature dashed his plan, with almost daily rains as planting time rolled around, and more rains and unseasonal frosts as the calendar moved into May.
“Some of my land is a little too wet for peanuts, and I had planned to put corn there,” he says. “I had seed booked for 150 acres of corn, but by May 6 we were still getting rain and temps in the 40s. It can take 10 days to two weeks for some of these soils to dry out, and I just couldn’t take a chance on planting corn that late. So, I cancelled my seed order.”
Norton, whose farming operation at Greenwood Springs in northeast Mississippi crosses the state line into Lamar County, Ala., says he will have 800 acres of cotton this year and 240 acres of peanuts. The farms are split about 50/50 between Mississippi and Alabama.
“Aside from my mother’s home place and some other family land that includes 70 acres in pine trees, most of what I farm is rented. We work with 16 different landlords. My largest field is 76 acres, and several are in the 50 to 75 acre range; the smallest is 3 acres. All are within about 10 miles.
“I’m pretty comfortable with the size of the operation now. There just isn’t that much land suitable for farming in this area, and I don’t want to have to travel long distances just to get bigger. The land I’m farming now is pretty much the best in this area.”
Norton grew up in a farming environment and says he had always known deep down that he wanted to be a farmer. But getting there took a somewhat circuitous route.
“My father, T.J. Norton, had an off-farm job, but he farmed on the side, with row crops, cows, etc. As a boy, crops and animals and farm chores were a way of life, and I enjoyed it. Dad always planted a small acreage of cotton, mainly to keep my brother Keith and me busy. We laughed that our broadleaf weed control program was Keith and me out there in the field with hoes. By the time I got old enough to pick cotton by hand, Dad hired a 1-row cotton picker to harvest the crop — but we still hand-picked the field borders.”
After attending Itawamba Community College, Greg began an industrial job at nearby Amory, Miss., but continued to help his father on the farm.
“I expected I’d be in the industry job until I retired,” he says. “By that time my brother had his own farming operation, and when Dad died in 1992, my wife Sheila and I took on his farming operation, and I kept working my industry job.
We moved a mobile home here on this hilltop, just a couple of miles up the road from where I grew up. We planned to live in it for five years, then build.”
He points to their lovely home on 13 acres shaded with stately white oak trees, overlooking some of his farmland in the creek bottom across the road, with neat metal shop and equipment buildings nearby.
“The five years turned out to be 15 years before we finally got to build our house,” Norton says. “We had some tough times — we had no equipment of our own, and Sheila and I were trying to do all the work ourselves in order to hold the line on costs. It was literally night and day, seven days a week, and it was killing us.