Presenting a new class of Peanut Efficiency Award winners is always a highlight for Farm Press editors. Every July, for the last 22 years, Farm Press has celebrated farmers from across the Peanut Belt who efficiently produce high-yielding peanuts. The producers are flown to Panama City Beach, Fla., for the Southern Peanut Growers Conference and recognized at Farm Press's annual awards breakfast.
Due to COVID, last year's breakfast never happened. But this year, we get to celebrate! Not only will we recognize the 22nd Class of winners but also the 21st.
The 2020 honorees for the Southwest are father and son, Glen and Aaron Martin, Wellman, Texas. Tony Dill is our 2021 winner. The Martins and Dills farm near one another in Terry County. This PEA event will be a Texas-sized celebration on the Florida beaches. Last count, between the two families, they are bringing 36 Texans to Florida — with me, that makes 37.
The Martins are second-generation PEA winners. James Martin, Glen's father, Aaron's grandfather, was our first PEA winner in 2000. He will be there as well.
The observance of our 2021 winner will be bittersweet. Painful because Tony passed away Oct. 23, 2020, from COVID-19. Wonderful because we get to celebrate a man who was a dedicated farmer, husband, father, grandfather, leader and friend.
In May, I met with Ryan, Tony's son, at a farm his dad had helped him lease. Ryan pulled into the field in his dad's blue pickup. Blue was Tony's favorite color. When I got in the pickup, Ryan warned me it was going to be a tough afternoon. “For the first time, I left the barn to plant peanuts without my dad.” This is Ryan's 16th year.
Ryan reached in the back seat for his dad's planting book. When it came to planting peanuts, Ryan said his dad always had everything ready to go. "He was always prepared," Ryan said. As he flipped through the pages, looking at his dad's handwritten rates, he said, "This stuff never changed. These are rates we use even now. He's always done it the same and he's always been successful, so I guess there's no reason to change it."
Ryan said Tony's favorite variety was flavor Runners. As to why, Ryan speculated it was because they yielded and covered well, and they weren't super tall. "It just always made good crops." When the seed was no longer available, he switched to his least favorite, Virginia Suggs. And then last year, his Virginia-type Wynnes yielded 6,981 pounds. "Those were the best ones he ever had."
Tony is dearly missed, deeply revered, and undoubtedly loved by his family, community and the peanut industry. What an honor it is to recognize him, his success and his life. May you rest in peace, Tony Dill. Today, we celebrate you!