As the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards Program begins taking nominations for its 10th class of winners, the task of earning the prestigious honor hasn't gotten any easier, says Marshall Lamb, research leader for the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga., and advisor for the program.
“The 2008 crop was probably the most expensive one we've ever grown,” says Lamb. “Our growers saw great increases in almost every input they use, especially in fuel, with transportation costs required to get this crop to market skyrocketing.”
Fortunately for growers, prices have been good this year and overall it has been a good crop, he says. “In mid- to late-August, Tropical Storm Fay soaked the entire peanut belt in the Southeast. We set a new crop that was very good, and that helped us to achieve the yields we made,” says Lamb.
The Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards are based on production efficiency, honoring those growers who produce the highest yields at the lowest cost per acre. Awards are presented to growers from the Southeast Region including Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi; the Virginia-Carolina Region including Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina; and the Southwest Region including Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
The awards program has honored nine classes of winners from throughout the Southeast, Virginia-Carolina and Southwest. Since the program's inception in 2000, the Peanut Profitability Awards have honored 27 deserving growers. The Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards Program began with the first-ever Southern Peanut Growers Conference.
Winners of the 2009 awards will receive an expenses-paid trip for two to the Southern Peanut Growers Conference, set for July of next year. They also will receive limited-edition signed and numbered prints from noted Southern watercolor artist Jack DeLoney.
In addition, the winners are featured in special Peanut Profitability issues of Southeast Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press and Delta Farm Press.
Lamb, who was instrumental in the creation of the awards program, designed the nomination form used by growers in determining production efficiency.
“While achieving consistently high yields and grades is important, it's only part of the equation to maximizing profits. The elements of production cost and price are equally important factors,” says Lamb.
The grower nomination form for the Peanut Profitability Award is very extensive, notes Lamb, and considers both fixed and variable costs.
“We've had nominees in this program who had higher yields than most, but they did not correctly manage their cost structure. We're looking at per-unit costs, and how effectively farmers manage their cost structures,” he says.
The awards program, he says, is based on a producer's entire peanut operation. “We're not talking about small plots in select fields. Rather, we look at the overall management of these growers. This includes yields, costs and marketing management for the entire farm, and most of our winners come from sizable farms,” says Lamb.
Assisting with the awards program is an advisory board comprised of Extension peanut specialists, county agents, economists and commodity group officials from the major peanut-producing states. They help distribute nomination forms within their respective states and educate potential nominees about the program.
Farm Press editors, working with Lamb, select the regional winners from the pool of state nominees. Members of the advisory board, along with Lamb, are charged with periodically reviewing the awards program to insure consistency.
Data entered on a farmer's nomination form, notes Lamb, should be based on an entire farm operation and not on individual farms or small plots. Actual per-unit costs and returns information will remain confidential to Lamb and his staff.
Growers may submit their nomination form directly to the National Peanut Research Laboratory, or they may submit it to their county Extension agents, peanut specialists or economists.
The deadline for all nominations is April 15.
To receive a hard copy of the form, call Farm Press headquarters at (662) 624-8503 or contact any member of the advisory board.
For the first time in the history of the Peanut Profitability Awards, Mississippi growers will have the opportunity to be nominated for awards to be presented in 2009, based on production in 2008.
“We've come a long way in six years,” says Mike Howell, an area agronomics agent with Mississippi State University's Extension Service based in Harrison County and the newest member of the Peanut Profitability Awards advisory board. “We've gone from 4,000 acres in 2002 to about 22,000 acres this year, and another big increase is expected for 2009.”
Mississippi peanut producers are seeing an upward trend in their yields, says Howell, and peanuts have provided a good option for growers in drought-prone areas, such as the northeast region of the state.
He expects peanuts will continue to take acres from cotton and corn next year. “In Warren County, we may not have an acre of cotton next year. Peanuts continue to be profitable for our growers, especially on fresh ground,” says Howell.
He expects a record production this year for Mississippi producers, with average yields of about 2 tons per acre. This past year, growers averaged 3,500 pounds per acre during a drought, just slightly below previous averages in the 3,600 to 3,700-pound range.
About 95 percent of Mississippi's peanut acreage is dryland, says Howell, but there is a lot of interest among growers in sub-surface drip irrigation. “Most of our fields are smaller — less than 30 acres,” he says.
Mississippi's peanut infrastructure also has grown along with the acreage, says Howell. The state's first buying point was in the Delta, in Anguilla, and a second one has been added in Aberdeen. A second buying point, he says, will keep the peanuts local, reduce trucking costs, and allow growers more time in the fields.