The rows curve and swirl throughout the field in mesmerizing patterns, some rows nearly making a full circle. It’s how it’s done in this part of northeast Alabama, and Jimmy Miller has made it work for decades.
The field — a patch no more than 30 acres or so — is just outside Snead, Ala., where Miller was born, grew up, and raised his family.
His unique way of growing high-yielding peanuts on what can be topographically challenging dryland fields has earned him the 2018 Farm Press Peanut Efficiency Winner for the Lower Southeast States.
Miller, 72, is soft-spoken, easy to smile, and very ardent about agriculture. More widely known for his cotton farming, he has been a cotton leader at state, regional, and national levels for many decades, leadership positions he still holds, including as a grower representative to the National Cotton Council. His efforts, and those of other cotton leaders across the country, have led to policy changes and opportunities for all cotton famers.
For this story, though, we’ll talk about his peanuts. In 2009, he started growing the Georgia-06G runner variety. But in 2011, he started exclusively growing high-oleic varieties; last year, varieties included Georgia-09B (70 acres) and Tufrunner 297 (18 acres).
He felt peanuts would provide an excellent rotation for his cotton and location, “And it has proven to be so,” he says, adding that he and his friend, neighbor, and fellow farmer, Pat Whitley, helped each other get back into the peanut business in the area. His typical crop rotation is two years in cotton and then one in peanuts.
Eddie McGriff, Alabama Cooperative Extension area agent, nominated Miller for the PEA award, and Miller credits McGriff, Dr. Marshall Lamb with the USDA Peanut Laboratory at Dawson, Ga., and Kris Balkcom, Alabama Extension agronomist and peanut specialist, for helping growers improve and grow the crop in this new peanut-producing area of Alabama.
Balkcom conducts peanut variety trials on Miller’s farm, and Miller credits Balkcom for turning him on to twin-row production. The practice lets the plants cover the ground quicker and better, Miller says, which is good in a dryland situation, and the practice has added about 400 pounds per acre in yields.
To economically switch over to twin-row, he used a four-row 1700 John Deere planter he already had, bought and installed conversion stand-off bars and added four extra units, and had vDrives installed, to help speed planting while keeping seed tubes from getting stopped up.