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Vic Swinson, this year’s Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award winner for the Upper Southeast, now farms 1,500 to 1,800 acres of peanuts and several thousand acres of grain crops.
The time was right
The business opportunity with peanuts and the cropping opportunity came together at the right time and everything just clicked to increase peanut acreage, Swinson says.
For a number of years their primary crops were tobacco and corn. “We just couldn’t seem to get better with corn — there wasn’t much going on with new varieties, and it just wasn’t very profitable for us,” he says.
In the early 1990s, they got into the cotton business, both growing and ginning; at one point they had 3,000-4,000 acres. “Ten years of growing that much cotton will wear you out,” Swinson jokes.
As they began to cut back on cotton acres, he says DeKalb in particular began to release really good new corn hybrids, so they got back into corn.
When the peanut program went away, Swinson had a lot of acres planted two ideal peanut rotation crops — cotton and corn. His best friend is a lifelong peanut grower, so getting into the peanut business big time was a natural thing to do.
The whole family is involved in the entire farming operation, but directly involved in the peanut end of it. Daughter Katie is a former Duplin County and North Carolina peanut yield champion, and son Lee is owner and operator of Golden Grove Candy Company.
Both inherited their father’s sense of entrepreneurship. It’s no stretch to figure out Golden Grove Candy Company makes peanut candy, which is now sold in retail stores across the country. Katie runs Wells Pork and Beef, a family-owned meat supply company that ships beef and pork products nationwide.
Teresa runs the family and helps with all the businesses. “She worked outside the farming operation for a number of years,” Swinson says, “and I kept telling her I needed her to help me on the farm. She used to say I didn’t have enough work to keep her busy — but I don’t think she would say that now.”
Profitability is important in any farming operation, but it’s not always the only driving force. A few years back Swinson got into the strawberry business.
“It’s one we should get out of, but our neighbors depend on us for strawberries, so we keep growing them. We plant the strawberries and our friends and neighbors pick them and pay on the honor system. It works just fine,” he says.
When they got into the peanut business, they were hauling peanuts 65 miles each way to a buying point at Elizabethtown, N.C. “It was a long way to haul peanuts,” he says, “and we had our share of flat tires and breakdowns — enough to start thinking about a better way to handle our peanuts.
“Jart and I began to think about building our own peanut storage and drying facility. We talked to a number of companies to get ideas about how to do it. Bo Willingham at Golden Peanut Company worked with us and gave us a good outlet to sell our peanuts. We looked at a number of operations in Georgia and got some ideas how we wanted our facility to operate.”
They built the facility and lease it to Golden. To make it work, he and Hudson have to grow a lot of peanuts, which fits well into their current farming operation, Swinson says.
He and Hudson, together, farm in four North Carolina counties; hence the name, Four County Peanut Company. The name of the peanut plant goes along with Tri-County Cotton Gin, in which he remains a partner.