The three winners of the 2007 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards are outstanding farmers in every sense of the word, says Marshall Lamb, research leader for the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga., and advisor for the awards program.

“They produce high yields, but they’re also very good at maintaining their costs, primarily their fixed costs,” said Lamb at the awards presentation, held at the ninth annual Southern Peanut Growers Conference in Panama City July 15-17.

Recipients of this year’s awards include Southeast Region, Bob McLendon, Leary, Ga.; Southwest Region, Clint White, Vernon Texas; and Virginia-Carolina Region, Todd Lewis, Gatesville, N.C.

This year marks the eighth class of Peanut Profitability Award winners, says Farm Press Publisher Greg Frey, and each class continues to impress with their use of innovative technologies to improve bottom-line profits.

“Since its inception in 2000, this awards program has honored 24 deserving growers from throughout the Southeast, Virginia-Carolina and Southwest regions of the United States,” says Frey.

Winners are determined, explains Lamb, based on returns over total costs for the entire farm operation. “We don’t just look at small strips and individual fields to determine the winners of this award. We actually look at all the fields on the farm to determine who receives this award, and we think that’s a fair way to do it when we’re looking at true profitability,” he says.

Farmers are asked to submit the amount of their inputs to calculate variable costs, says Lamb. “We also try to get a full inventory of equipment that is used for peanut production. We use that to determine fixed costs, using a formula that includes depreciation, interest, repairs, taxes and insurance. From that, we calculate fixed costs per acre and add that back to variable costs to get the total cost per acre. We then take the yield — balancing irrigated and non-irrigated if it applies — and the price to determine revenue and, ultimately, profit,” he says.

One of the keys to determining the winners of the Peanut Profitability Award, says Lamb, is the ability of farmers to do a good job of maintaining fixed costs. “Bear in mind, when we talk about this award, we’re talking about true profitability for the entire peanut enterprise on the farm, and each of this year’s winners did an excellent job this past growing season in keeping their costs at a reasonable level, while maintaining very high outputs in terms of yield.”

In accepting his award, Southeast winner McLendon said he accepted the honor on behalf of the people with whom he worked. “At this stage in my life, I’m really a cheerleader for the farm and the other guys who do the work, but I’m honored to accept this award,” he says.

There are many factors that go into making a successful peanut crop, says McLendon. “Planting twin rows really stimulated our yields. One of the biggest things that have helped us is the development of fungicides. On our farm, there once was a two-year rotation, and rhizoctonia became a tremendous obstacle. Our yields increased when we starting using Abound,” he says.

The Irrigator Pro irrigation scheduling system also has been beneficial, he adds. “I tended to over-irrigate in past years, but the Irrigator Pro tells me when to irrigate. I consequently stopped irrigating excessively, and that has helped me to reduce my costs of operation. We also went to a three-year rotation, beginning back in the early 1990s, and that has boosted our yields tremendously,” he says.

McLendon says a GPS navigation system on his tractor also has helped his peanut farming operation. “We’ve always been blessed with good labor. One of my guys told me this past year he only thought he was a good tractor driver, but that the GPS had allowed him to do an even better job,” he says.

Southwest winner White said it was a great honor to receive the Peanut Profitability Award. “I haven’t been growing peanuts as long as many of the farmers in the Southeast. We don’t have the problems with diseases like leafspot, and we’ve been fortunate this year because I haven’t had to irrigate my peanuts,” he says.

White, who farms in the northwest region of Texas, says that most of his cropland is in 120-acre circles. “We split it half-and-half. We’ll have 60 acres of peanuts, and then we’ll go in with wheat in the fall. Once we cut the wheat in June, I’ll plant cotton. I bed it with a disk bedder, throwing the residue into the row,” he says.

So far, diseases haven’t been a problem for White’s peanut crop. “We’re keeping a close eye on the crop, and that has worked well for us. Where the fungicide costs are high for Southeastern growers, the irrigation costs are usually high for us. This year is totally different — we’ve been blessed,” he says. Timeliness at harvest is very important, says White. “We push hard to get it all done before the Nov. 10 freeze date. In most years, we can do it,” he says.

Virginia-Carolina winner Lewis said in accepting the award that he gave all of the credit to God. “I once thought that whether or not things worked out well depended on me, and the stress became greater. But God taught me to do the best I can and leave the rest to him,” he says.

There are challenges to growing peanuts in North Carolina because of the shortened season, says Lewis. “We have to watch for freezing every year. We are blessed with the triple-H — hazy, hot and humid — so we have our share of disease problems. We have to battle all the peanut diseases,” he says.

Lewis says one of his most valuable production assets is his crop consultant. “He walks every field on a weekly basis, and he helps me to stay timely with my fungicide applications. We did have a problem on our bottomland with white mold, but when Folicur and other fungicides came on the market, we increased our yields by 500 pounds per acre, just by controlling white mold,” he says.

Sponsors of this year’s awards include the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, Bayer CropScience, Golden Peanut Company, John Deere, Syngenta, SIPCAM AGRO USA, INC., the Texas Peanut Board, U.S. Borax, Southeast Farm Press and Southwest Farm Press.

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com