The winners of the 2001 Peanut Profitability Awards represent the very best in production agriculture, having persevered in the face of severe weather problems and uncertain market conditions.

“It's difficult to realize a profit in these difficult times,” says Marshall Lamb, economist with the USDA National Peanut Research Laboratory and advisor for the Peanut Profitability Program. “We need to recognize how the winners of this year's awards have managed their farms — they're the tops in their respective regions.”

The Farm Press awards, sponsored by BASF, were presented during an awards breakfast at the Southern Peanut Growers Conference in Panama City, Fla. This marks the second year of the Peanut Profitability Program.

Honorees for 2001 include Neil Reimer, Seminole, Texas, Southwest Region; Wayland Spruill, Windsor, N.C., Virginia-Carolina Region; and Harris Devane, Cuthbert, Ga., Southeast Region.

“Total farm profitability boils down to three elements — yield, price and costs,” says Lamb. “These three winners did a good job of managing these elements within their farm operations. They're good managers who did an excellent job of producing their peanut crops. All growers should realize, as these winners have, that profit is not a bad word. That's what we're for.”

The 2001 honorees, he adds, also did a good job of managing their fixed costs. “These three producers excelled at managing their farm equipment costs in relation to the number of acres farmed”

The Peanut Profitability awards are based on each farmer's entire peanut operation, and not just on individual plots from fields, says Lamb. “It represents the profitability and efficiency of their peanut operation in terms of variable costs, as well as how they managed their fixed costs. We looked at that in terms of their yield to arrive at their profitability on a per-unit basis.

“The 2001 winners quickly rose to the top of the ranks in their regions. It was easy to make these selections.”

This year's honorees are innovators and leaders in agriculture, says Rob Dixon, BASF market manager for peanuts.” All of these growers have embraced change in their farming operations,” he says. “And, these gentlemen are going for efficiency and not just maximum yields.”

Farm Press, in cooperation with the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, established the Peanut Profitability Program to recognize and reward those producers who have found innovative methods of improving bottom-line profits, says Mike Gonitzke, publisher of the Farm Press publications.

“While achieving high yields and grades is important in peanut production, it's only part of the equation for maximizing profits,” says Gonitzke.

A second major component of the Peanut Profitability Program is education, he says.

Southwest Farm Press and Southeast Farm Press have accomplished this through the past year by publishing a series of articles focusing on peanut production efficiency. It also is our hope that farmers throughout the Peanut Belt will learn from the production practices of our winning growers.”

The 2001 Peanut Profitability winners shared some of their efficient production practices during a question-and-answer session following the awards breakfast. They discussed recent changes they've made in their peanut production programs in addition to water management and weed control strategies.

“With our hot temperatures and sandy soils, we don't have a lot of options for watering peanuts other than with center pivots,” says Neil Reimer of Texas. “But we can improve our water management by using more efficient sprinkler packages.

“We can't use as much water as we would like because the water table is dropping. We have benefited from using LEPA (Low Energy Precision Application) sprinkler packages.”

Reimer's entire peanut crop is planted in Virginia-type varieties. “The plants grow up to about 1.5 feet tall in the field because we're planting on top of a bed. We try to get our irrigation nozzles down on top of the plant. We need to get water into the ground as quickly as possible because of wind and evaporation,” he says.

Reduced-tillage also has helped Reimer to conserve moisture, as he plants peanuts into a wheat cover crop. “Our fields already are sandy and dry, so we don't plow our peanuts. Reduced-tillage and wheat stubble also help us with weed control.”

Reimer scouts his fields and tries to eliminate weeds before they become a problem. “Whenever I plant peanuts, I have about eight to 10 days before they begin cracking the ground. Prior to cracking, I make an application of Gramoxone whether I need it or not. I also try to get peanuts to lap as quickly as possible to shade the ground. In addition, I put out one application of Pursuit to take care of weeds and grasses.”

One of the primary changes made in recent years by Georgia's Harris Devane is in the planting date of his peanuts. “We were planting in early April, and disease pressure became a real problem. Tomato spotted wilt virus became especially troublesome, so we began planting during the first half of May. We've seen a big benefit from making this change,” says Devane.

The southwest Georgia farmer also pays close attention to soil fertility. “We follow a strict schedule on fertilizing, and we try to keep our soil pH at a level that helps to prevent problems such as pod rot,” he says.

Devane's entire peanut crop is irrigated by center pivots. “We depend on irrigation to get the peanuts up to a good stand. Irrigation also helps in incorporating chemicals, especially during dry periods. We try to put on about one to 1.5 inches of water per week.”

Devane's weed control program begins with an application of Sonalan — preplant incorporated — followed by an at-cracking treatment of Gramoxone and Storm. Two weeks later, he follows with an application of Cadre over the top.

North Carolina's Wayland Spruill has found the computer program Irrigator Pro to be helpful in irrigating his peanut crop. “We have a lot of disease pressure in our area because of cool nighttime temperatures, and too much water can't be as harmful as not enough water.

“Irrigator Pro has helped us to balance our irrigation applications. Since we began using the program, our yields have improved and we're using less water. It also has helped us to control sclerotinia blight, which can be a very costly disease in North Carolina,” he says.

Spruill also lists strip-tillage as another aide in conserving moisture. “There's definitely more moisture in a reduced-tillage system. I like to view no-till as free irrigation. The cost per acre of strip-till is about the same as conventional-tillage, but there are other benefits that you can't put a figure on or measure,” he says.

Regular scouting, says Spruill, helps to cut weed control costs “by determining which fields have grass troubles and which fields don't.”

paul_hollis@primediabusiness.com