Outstanding Young Farm Family – Peanut Division
Darrin and Amanda Driskell know what it’s like to weather a storm. The fertile soils in Mobile County along Alabama’s Gulf Coast grow great peanuts and cotton plus corn and other crops, but living close to the coast also exposes them to Mother Nature’s fury from time to time.Since they began farming full time seven years ago, they’ve witnessed that fury more times than they’d like to remember. There was Hurricane Danny in 1997, Hurricane Georges in 1998, and in 2002, there was the duo of Hurricane Isidore and Hurricane Lili. But the Driskells’ ability to overcome adversity, whether it’s the weather or low commodity prices, has allowed them to carve out their niche in a competitive farm business. That’s one of the reasons they were named this year’s Outstanding Young Farm Family in the Peanut Division.This year’s harvest weather has been great with nearly a third of their peanut crop gathered. Darrin said he hopes to harvest two tons of peanuts per acre on the 527 acres he planted in peanuts. However, the year didn’t start out too great.”We had excessive rainfall earlier in the year, and we had a hard time getting our crop worked,” Darrin said. “But we got it done, and it looks like we’re going to make a good crop of peanuts. Our cotton crop looks good, too.”Last year, the weather was completely different. It rained almost every day during harvest season, making it impossible to harvest peanuts, which need several days of sunshine to dry before they are picked.”I spent more time dragging chains and cables trying to pull pickers out of the bog than actually harvesting,” Darrin said. “We probably lost two-thirds of our peanut crop because we couldn’t get it in. Our cotton crop wasn’t much better. We had set a good crop, but the excessive rain caused the grade to drop.”Darrin farms with his brother, Kevin, his dad, Bert, and his uncles, Darrell and Keith. Together, they farm 10,000 acres, including 2,000 acres in Louisiana. In addition to cotton and peanuts, they also grow corn and soybeans and have a successful beef cattle operation of about 1,000 head of brood cows.Although Darrin’s been working on the farm fulltime for the past seven years, his love of the land really is much older than that. He grew up on the farm he now helps to manage.”I started by mowing ditch banks with a little small tractor when I was in the third grade,” Darrin said. “I was as excited as I could be. I went to college with the idea of being a pharmacist, and I considered being a chemical engineer, but I wanted to come back to the farm. The pull was too strong. When I was in school, all I could think about was farming.”But farming has changed in recent years, especially living so close to Mobile. Urban sprawl has changed the way the Driskells’ farm operates and was a major factor in their decision to expand their farm into Louisiana.”Even though we have a pretty big farm here, we all work here, and we didn’t see much potential for growth here in south Alabama and Mobile in general,” Darrin said. “In Louisiana, there is still lots of good farm land. Around here, there are lots of subdivisions going up and farmland is harder to find.”Urban sprawl also affects the way the Driskells farm. Commuter rush-hour traffic now dictates when they can move equipment from one field to another.”In the past 10 years, the traffic has just become unreal,” Darrin said. “Moving equipment up and down the road is dangerous. We are so spread out that we have to move sometimes twice a day, and we really have to time our moving around the rush-hour traffic to be safe. They are in too big of a hurry–so we try not to be on the road when they are.”Changes in the Farm Bill have affected the way the Driskells farm as well. For them, changes in the peanut program were welcomed.”Last year was the first year under the new peanut program,” Darrin said. “We started growing peanuts in 1999. The new farm bill has opened up a lot of opportunity for us as peanut producers because we’re able to plant what we want. Under the old system, you had to plant under the quota system. We’ve been able to plant more peanuts which has benefited us.”But Amanda says things always are changing on the farm. In fact, living on a farm is a big change for a girl who grew up in a family of shrimpers near Mobile.”The first time I came to the farm I was just amazed,” Amanda said. “All the equipment and just the amount of work a farmer does are hard to believe. But I love living on the farm and helping out when I can. It’s a great place to raise a family.”The Driskells’ daughter, Hannah Faith, is nearly four years old. She loves the cattle and an occasional ride on the tractor with her daddy. Amanda worked several years at the family’s
cotton gin and most recently has pitched in to help at the peanut plant. She said her job is whatever needs to be done–secretarial work, getting parts, bringing supplies, or in some cases, cooking for a crowd.”When we work in Louisiana, there may be 15 of us over there for a week working,” she said. “If there are 15 of us, then I cook for 15–it can get to be a challenge.”In addition to running a busy farm, Darrin also is active in several farm organizations, including the Mobile County Young Farmers where he serves as secretary. He also serves on the peanut, cotton and wheat and feed grains committees for the Mobile County Farmers Federation.The Driskells said they’d like to see their farm grow, possibly buying more land in Louisiana.”The important thing is that I continue to be successful. That means I’ve got to try to find new ways to produce a better crop for less money,” Darrin said.