May 2022 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

Cody and Courtney Darling
YF&R State Leadership Group, District 2

First generation perennial peanut farmers Cody and Courtney Darling have had an unconventional path on their journey to building a farming business and legacy.

The couple grew up with different backgrounds. One in farming, one without. Courtney grew up in the city of Tampa, where her only introduction to farming was at her school’s FFA chapter. Cody grew up in farming. His dad, a retired veterinarian, owned a 100-acre hay farm in Michigan and a 55-acre farm in Indiana. In addition to growing hay, Cody spent a majority of his life around horses.

Their passion for agriculture merged when their paths crossed at the University of Florida where they were both actively involved in many of numerous clubs with a mutual love for agronomy.

Their relationship blossomed during their overlapping time at North Florida Holsteins where Courtney was an intern and Cody was employed.

Shortly after graduating college, the couple were married, and moved to Gilchrist County where their farming career slowly took off after a few peanut jokes turned into a realization of peanuts as a livelihood.

“{Growing peanuts} first started out as a joke, and then we found property with perennial peanuts already planted on it” said Courtney. “We’re both into forages and I really got into it, even in my weed sciences program during college.”

Finding and purchasing land was an indication that the Darlings were heading in the right direction. In addition to their full-time jobs, the pair bought their first plot of land in 2017.

“Our farm started when we purchased peanut sprigs in Bell and we planted an acre by hand,” recalls Cody. “Every couple of years we would spread those. Toward the end of 2017 we bought 20 acres with peanuts already on it and cleared that land. I was working for Generation Farms at the time and gained a wide spread of knowledge about different row crops.”

What started with one-acre quickly grew to 20, and by the end of 2019 they owned nearly 70 acres of perennial peanuts. As homage to Cody’s childhood, the Darlings diversified their crops to perennial peanuts and hay.

“Growing up farming hay, alfalfa was my favorite crop,” said Cody. “If it wasn’t for Courtney, I wouldn’t have moved into perineal peanuts. It was her idea. It’s a high quality forage and there’s a high demand for it. As a farmer, it was an easy niche to get into.”

Recently, they have downsized their hay operation to 40 acres and have dedicated seven acres to a feed peanut crop. They are growing two acres of Valencia peanuts and five acres of Virginia peanuts. Virginia peanuts are harvested while they are still green and are used for boiled peanuts.

As the Darlings grew their farm business, they leaned on other farmers to help and understood the importance of networking with other young farmers. They decided to start a Young Farmers & Ranchers Group in Gilchrist County as a way to share ideas and network with fellow farm families. They leaned on an Alachua County Young Farmers & Ranchers Group board member for guidance.

The couple has since moved to Suwannee County, after Cody received a promotion to serve as the regional agronomist for Black Gold Farms. Since moving to Suwannee County, the Darlings have been focused on starting and growing a new YF&R group.

“There are young people to be a part of the group, but it’s been hard because COVID got in the way, said Cody. “It’s a very struggling experience, but that’s often part of it in this day and age.”

Despite the struggles of building a new group, the Darlings have not given up. They continue to build relationships with new friends and are developing stronger leadership skills by participating in the state Young Farmers & Ranchers Leadership Group.

“There are only a certain amount of people who love to farm and we happen to be one of the few,” said Cody. “I think that is what keeps us going and how we’re rooted in resilience. There’s not many people out there who can nor want to do what it takes to farm.”

Courtney added how important it is to her and Cody to leave a legacy for their children.

“That’s what gets me through the tough times,” added Courtney. “Some days it’s hard but it has a lot of reward and it will be worth it.”