Getting his son involved in the peanut business didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting. “The first year we grew peanuts was the last year I tried to go to college,” Lee Swinson laughs. “I planted all the peanuts that year. It was a new crop, fun to grow, and I saw right away it was one we could add value to on the farm.”

Swinson grows his peanuts behind two years of corn. Hudson grows peanuts on a four-year rotation, which allows Swinson to grow more acres needed to keep the peanut company running smoothly.

This year, he will grow about 700 acres of cotton and will get cotton into the rotation on some of his land prone to nematode problems.

“I still like to grow peanuts behind corn so I can get the use of some of the residual fertilizer — that’s something my uncle taught me long before I started growing peanuts,” he says.

They grow all Virginia type peanuts and plant on 38-inch rows with a 12-row ripper/bedder, then come back with two 12-row planters. They plant NC-V11, Champs, Phillips and Perry varieties, shooting for the larger kernel varieties to sell under their trade name.

“We plant most of our Champs on heavier land that is irrigated, because they come off early and it helps spread out harvest,” he says. Currently, they irrigate 300-400 acres. 

“In 2008, Katie won the North Carolina yield championship with over 6,000 pounds per acre, and these were under irrigation,” Swinson says proudly.

He typically begins planting in mid-May, using an inoculant on all peanuts. This year they used acephate (Orthene) in the water with the inoculant to try and replace Temik and Thimet, which are in short supply and being phased out.

One business decision Swinson made early on is to use generic products. “We typically get three to four prices on all the products we buy and generics have worked well for us. Over such a large operation, a few dollars saved per chemical, per acre saves us a lot of money.”

He sprays a generic version of Dual-Valor behind the planter, and if needed, Gramoxone and Basagran. Like so many North Carolina growers, he battles pigweed on a daily basis and uses as many herbicide families as possible to help slow development of herbicide resistance.

At bloom, they put down land-plaster. “The cost isn’t bad,” Swinson says, “but hauling it 100 miles and sending an empty truck back to the plant another 100 miles keeps us on our toes.”

Through all the growth and diversification of his farming operation over the years, he says one thing remains constant: “Take care of the land, and the land will take care of you. Farmers are the ultimate environmentalists — if we do our job right, the land will benefit, not suffer, from the crops we plant on it.”