Jamie Lee and wife Sherry were expecting their third child when Jamie was profiled as the Peanut Profitability Award winner for the Upper Southeast in the July 3, 2002 issue of Southeast Farm Press. At that time, seventeen years ago, the couple's two other children, James V and twin sister Miranda, were three years old
Interestingly, Jamie was unable to attend the award ceremony in person at the Southern Peanut Growers conference in Panama City, Fla. in July that year because he was with Sherry when she gave birth to daughter Morgan on July 22, 2002.
Instead, James’s dad, James Lee III, attended and accepted the award on his son’s behalf. “I announced to the crowd at the awards ceremony that I was a new granddaddy, and everybody clapped,” the elder Lee said in an interview May 14 with Southeast Farm Press, joined by both son Jamie and grandson James at their farm office near Courtland.
Morgan turns 17 in July and will be a senior next year at Southampton Academy in Courtland. James and twin sister Miranda are now 20. Miranda is currently in college working towards her dream of pursuing a career in dental hygiene. James just completed a degree in field crop technology at North Carolina State University and has returned to the family farm to work with his dad.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the fourth article of a Southeast Farm Press editorial series called ‘Excellence in Peanuts — A 20th Anniversary,” which is exploring the last 20 years of U.S. peanut production through the lens of the peanut efficiency program past winners.
“We’re glad to see James come back,” Jamie says. “Ever since he was young, farming is just what he wanted to do. He’s always been involved and always been interested.”
Adds grandad, “James could run a tractor when he was 8 years old. We knew farming is what he wanted to do. As a grandfather, I just wish prices were better because I know he’s a hard worker, so his efforts will be rewarded. Prices are really suppressed right now. It’s a tight market and a real crap shoot trying to keep the ink black,” he says.
Jamie adds that James is already bringing ideas and contributing to the farm. One change suggested by James and incorporated this year was the use of RTK(Real-time Kinematic positioning) on one tractor at planting. They have used GPS in the past, but this is the first year they’ve turned to RTK. Both Jamie and James say RTK has delivered good results this year.
Indeed, there have been other changes on the farm since 2002, but one thing that hasn’t changed is Jamie’s attention to detail, emphasis on timeliness and the importance of taking Sundays off.
In his interview with Cecil Yancy, Southeast Farm Press associate editor at the time, Jamie said the family put away the implements on Sunday for a day of rest and to honor the Lord.
Back then, Jamie said he believed the Lord blessed him for taking Sundays off, and he said that is still true today. The Lees are active members of Courtland Baptist Church and their faith is important to them. Jamie gives the Lord the credit for his crops.
Yields have improved since 2002. Jamie says better varieties, and fungicides and improved technology are part of the reason for the increase in yields. When he was honored with the award in July 2002, Jamie averaged 4,925 pounds per acre on 248 acres in the 2001 season.
In 2017 (he laid out of peanuts in 2018 due to low prices), he averaged 1,000 pounds per acre more, seeing a yield of 5,900 pounds per acre. He’s back to growing peanuts this year and hopes to make 6,000 pounds per acre. He’s planting all Baileys on 200 acres. And just like in 2002, all his peanuts are sold for seed.
Because of low prices, the family stepped away from growing peanuts in 2003 and didn’t return to the crop until 2016. If prices continue to hold, the Lees hope to stay with peanuts, because they enjoy the crop. They also grow cotton, corn and soybeans on their 1,500-acre farm and plant wheat as a cover crop.
This year, in addition to their 200 acres of peanuts, they have 500 acres of corn and 500 acres of cotton with the rest dedicated to soybeans and 65 acres planted to wheat as a cover. Jamie says he enjoys all of the crops because they all offer rewards and challenges, but corn is his favorite.
James, on the other hand, is more of a cotton man. “With corn, you just plant, run the irrigation, apply nitrogen and pretty much watch it grow. With cotton, you have to learn to adapt and deal with what Mother Nature brings you. It’s more of a managed crop,” he says.
Another big change in peanuts since 2002 is the use of strip-tillage when the family returned to the crop in 2016. They had used strip-tillage for their other crops, but 2016 was the first year they used it in peanuts. Jamie believes it helps in terms of both soil health and yield. In the past, the family tilled the land and used beds for their peanuts.
Jamie also believes the long break in peanuts helped. He says the family returned to peanuts this year because grain prices aren’t so strong and the return on peanuts looks more promising.
“Peanut prices weren’t so great in 2018, so we dropped out again. This year we planted peanuts because we are trying to diversify. Bailey is a good variety and since we are able to have these long rotations, we hope to make the yield,” Jamie says.
Another change in peanuts since 2002 is the use of starter fertilizer. Back then, they didn’t apply starter fertilizer in peanuts and the family used custom applicators to apply their fertilizer. Today, they have a rig and apply the fertilizer themselves.
Jamie says precision agriculture has always been a focus for the family. Timeliness of fertilizer has always been important, but in the past few years the family has turned to variable rate liming and variable rate fertilizer to help manage costs. GPS helps with that.
“Financially, things are much more challenging now than they were in 2002. That’s one big change. The work isn’t any harder and it may be easier, but the finances certainly are tougher,” Jamie says.
Today, Jamie is 49. When he won the Peanut Profitability Award in 2002 he had been farming since 1996. He plans to stay on the farm because it is his passion and says the greatest joy is to have son James on board and be so passionate about farming. “It’s a great gift from God,” Jamie says.
In his 2002 interview with Southeast Farm Press, Jamie emphasized the importance of doing things rights. He says this is equally important today.
“Whatever we do, we try to do it the best we can,” Jamie says “We are interested in turning to high oleic peanuts since that’s where the market is headed. We want to do what the customer needs. If we can provide the quality product they need, they’ll continue to turn to us and we will continue to stick with growing seed peanuts,” he says.
Past winners of the Peanut Profitability/Peanut Efficiency Award in the upper Southeast include:
2000 Joe Cobb North Carolina
2001 Wayland Spruill North Carolina
2002 Jamie Lee Virginia
2003 Ricky Kneece North Carolia
2004 Joseph Ward North Carolina
2005 Robert Umphlett Virginia/Carolina
2006 Hugh & Landy Weathers Virginia/Carolina
2007 Todd Lewis Virginia/Carolina
2008 Williams McElveen South Carolina
2009 John Crumpler Virginia/Carolina
2010 Richard Rentz South Carolina
2011 Vic Swinson Virginia/Carolina
2012 Bud Bowers South Carolina
2013 Jart Hudson Virginia/Carolina
2014 Billy Baine Virginia
2015 Brian McClam South Carolina
2016 Mike Belch North Carolina
2017 Ray Davis Virginia
2018 Atwood McIntosh South Carolina