Starting from scratch in the cotton business was a tough row to hoe for St. Matthews, S.C., grower Kendall W. (Kent) Wannamaker.

But, today he and his wife, Mary Lil, own and operate a thriving cotton, peanut, and corn farming operation, and he is a recognized leader in the cotton industry.

He also is president and co-owner of Farmers Gin Company LLC at St. Matthews, and is a partner in Carolina Peanut LLC, a peanut buying station at Cameron, S.C.

His accomplishments in cotton production, combined with his stewardship of resources and his leadership in the agricultural community, have earned him the Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award for the Southeast states.

Wannamaker, who grew up in a farming family and graduated from Clemson University with a degree in plant sciences, had planned to return after college and help run the family farming operation begun by his grandparents.

Which is what he did for five years.

Then, in the mid-1980s, his father and uncle decided to retire from farming and put their land in the Conservation Reserve Program, leaving Wannamaker with some life-altering choices to be made.

“It was a difficult decision for my father and my uncle to retire from farming,” he says, “ but at the time, the outlook was grim for the whole farming industry. Our farm had a lot of highly erodible land, and the CRP program looked like the best thing to do at the time.”

Thanks in large part to 30 acres of land given to him by his grandmother, Lucile Wannamaker, he was able to venture into the swine business.

“My grandmother was a legend in her time,” he says. “She had her own farming operation and she recognized early on that I wanted to be involved with farming. We’ve come a long way with our farming operation — but it all started on those 30 acres of land.

“Other than those 30 acres, I didn’t have any land, so in 1985 I began a small scale swine business. That’s about all I could fit on the land.”