All photographs by Austin Anthony.
Joel Hicks doesn’t think he’s the last peanut farmer in Love County, Oklahoma, but he’s definitely the only one in 2022. The 78-year-old’s 75 acres of Florunners make up the entirety of a crop that once took up over 5,000 acres in the county that sits atop the Red River bordering Texas.
Hicks says the number of peanut farmers has been dwindling since the 2002 Farm Bill removed price supports for peanuts. Anthony Reed, Hicks’ compatriot on the Oklahoma Peanut Commission, gave his own reasons:
“There are plenty of reasons, starting with the drought,” he told the Marietta Monitor. “And then the high prices for fuel, fertilizer, and chemicals.”
The drought has been significant. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor this year’s September was the 6th driest in the last 128 years in Love County. The county exists in a zone of Severe Drought, with portions of the county in Extreme Drought. Hicks has watered his peanut crop 13 times this year at 1 and a half inches of water each time. He says he can’t remember a year where he did it more than 8.
“He sure picked a good year to take a break,” said Hicks of Reed’s decision not to plant this year.
Hicks also farms pecans and cattle, but says peanuts bring him the most joy. In the corner of his home office is a dusty collection of accolades for peanut farming. One stands over 3 feet tall with a 6 inch gold painted peanut adorning the top, awarded for his 1993 harvest.
The awards stop coming some time in the 2000s, but Hicks keeps farming peanuts. The challenge of growing them and the reward of success keeps him going.
“Peanuts are a really sensitive crop,” Hicks says. “They’re easy to be destroyed.”