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For the love of farming and health of the soil

Kelsey Pagel for Progressive Forage Published on 01 September 2021
Baling the vines to be fed

Sandy Ridge Farms Inc. (SRF), located in Newsoms, Virginia, raises over 1,400 acres of corn, soybeans, cotton, peanuts and a few cows.

West Drake; his wife, Maci; and daughter Skylie farm alongside West’s parents, Michael and Rebecca.

Drake family

West started early in the peanut business, being born in October right in peak peanut harvest season. As he grew, he was given age-appropriate responsibilities. His dad got him his first peanut combine in 2007 when he was 16 years old. West came home from school and ran his peanut combine.

“I love waking up every day knowing that I have a purpose,” says West. “God has blessed me with the talent and ability to be a farmer, and every day I work in partnership with Him to grow and produce crops that will feed and clothe people around the world.”

Through his work, he found independence, learned how to service and work on equipment. Being in the field all hours of the day, he knew farming is where he wanted to be. He returned to the farm full time after graduating from North Carolina State University in 2011.

“My dad told me growing up that in order to become a successful farmer, I would have to love it,” West says. “I was probably 12 or 13 at the time, and I honestly didn’t understand what he meant back then. Now, at the age of 30, those words couldn’t be truer.”

West Drake

Peanuts are grown in only 13 of the 50 U.S. states, with a total of 1.6 million acres. Peanuts are developed underground and are considered to be a legume that fix their own nitrogen. Every operation is different, but SRF strives to be innovative and keep the family farming legacy going.

Planting season

Peanut planting season starts the first week of May. SRF is on the northern edge of the peanut-growing area of the U.S., which shortens their peanut season. Having the peanuts in the ground at the ideal time can make or break a crop.

“Farming will grow your faith and take your faith,” says West. “It requires faith to be successful. In addition to that, I feel that I have been given the talent and ability to help educate the public about what farmers do on a daily basis, which may be just as important as actually growing crops. For me, being a farmer is a combination of the two.”

Planting season starts before May; however, the burndown of winter cover crops starts in March. Then the ground is disked three separate times about two weeks apart. The field cultivator is run over the acres to break the clods up, eliminate all the fields’ debris and get the soil as clean and even as possible. Then a ripper-bedder comes in to make the raised beds in the soil. Plants are seeded into the tops of these raised beds. Raised seedbeds make harvest easier for the diggers in the fall.

Growing season

One preemergent herbicide is applied immediately after plants emerge; a post-emerge insecticide is used to help control thrips. About the same time, a post-emerge herbicide that has contact and residual control is applied. From then on, post-emerge herbicides are applied as needed for weed and grass control (one to three times). A fungicide spray schedule (usually every two to three weeks starting in July depending on what scouting determines) is used for preventing leaf spot; this summer disease will defoliate the plants. The active ingredients are switched and rotated because each is effective in different ways. Very wet and very dry years have added challenges with white mold and spider mites, respectively, that must be addressed.

Harvest season

Harvest

When harvest starts in October, it’s all hands on deck. West and Michael drive the diggers and combines. Rebecca and Maci drive the wagons to the sheds. It takes a lot of logistics to have the wagons in the right field at the right time. The peanut vines are baled and stored for winter feed for cattle. Winter wheat is then drilled into the fields to provide cover for the soil. The peanuts are dried and stored on-farm before being loaded onto a semi to transport to the mill later in the year.

‘Off-season’

During the off season, several things are done to ensure the busy seasons go smoothly. Equipment is serviced and repaired, planting decisions are made, and the nutrient management plan for each acre is developed so only the nutrients the crops need are applied without over- or underapplying. Soil and water erosion problems are looked at and addressed. West is currently working diligently to learn and improve the soil fertility on his farm.

Also, West values the importance of being involved in organizations and associations. He is a member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Peanut Advisory Committee, Virginia Peanut Growers Association, Virginia Crop Improvement Association, an alternate member on the National Peanut Board and a local firefighter and EMT.

Looking forward to the future of the peanut industry, West thinks there’s going to be more work done on developing new peanut varieties that are resistant to common diseases.

The why

“When you love something, you’re more likely to always look at the positives during tough times,” says West. “When you love something, you’re more willing to work the long hours necessary to get the job done on time. When you love something, you’re more likely to take care of it and create a bright future for it. How the love of farming became instilled in me to the degree that it is today will remain one of my life’s mysteries, but I truly do love what I do. I am thankful to be an American farmer.”  end mark

PHOTO 1: Part of the harvest process includes baling the vines to be fed to cattle in the winter.

PHOTO 2: Rebecca, Michael, Maci and West Drake all have a part in helping Sandy Ridge Farms be a success.

PHOTO 3: West credits his work ethic to helping on the farm early in life. 

PHOTO 4: “Farming will grow your faith and take your faith. It requires faith to be successful."Photos provided by the Drake family.

Kelsey Pagel is a freelance writer based out of northeast Kansas.

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