The 2010 Peanut Profitability Award winners sat down recently to discuss peanut production and some of the challenges the peanut industry faces; among those challenges, they all agree, is keeping the infrastructure that supports peanuts alive and vibrant.

The winners, Richard Rentz from Branchville, S.C.; Al Sudderth from Dawson, Ga., and Rusty Strickland from Wellington, Texas, shared some of their concerns at the recent Southern Peanut Growers meeting in Panama City Beach, Fla.

Richard Rentz, who grows both runner and Virginia type peanuts and is one of the larger green peanut producers in the Southeast, says the work of Jay Chapin and James Thomas at Clemson University’s Edisto Agricultural Research and Education Center has been invaluable to him and to most South Carolina peanut growers.

“The condition of our Land-Grant universities concerns me more and more. I know the Farm Press has written several editorials on it and it is really a challenge to the infrastructure of our industry,” says Rentz.

In South Carolina, Clemson’s budget has been cut and cut and recently they came out with a buyout program that could really devastate agricultural research and extension, Rentz notes.

“If all the people who would be eligible for early retirement at Clemson retired, we would have hardly anyone left. I don’t know how we can maintain a viable Extension System without experienced people. In my opinion, in South Carolina, that is one of the biggest threats to the peanut industry,” the Branchville, S.C. grower says.

Sudderth says, “I call on my County Extension agent all the time. They have proven to be good problem solvers over the years, and we rely on them to give us good information as to which material will and won’t work best on our soils.”

Strickland says in his area of Texas, one of the biggest concerns of peanut grower is the rapid rate at which resistance to old-line herbicides is developing.

“We are getting weeds every year that are resistant to one herbicide or another. If that happens with some of our peanut herbicides, we will be in big trouble. I hope some of these companies will develop new chemistry that will help us take care of weeds in the future—without having to go back to mechanically managing them,” Strickland says.

Among the top priorities for South Carolina is getting a shelling facility, Rentz says. “We have gone in just a few years from 10,000 acres of peanuts to 70,000 this year and every peanut grown in South Carolina is shipped somewhere else to be shelled.”

Rentz, chairman of the South Carolina Peanut Board, has led the way in lobbying for a shelling facility. “It’s something we all know is needed, but exactly how to get a company to invest in building a shelling and processing facility has proven to be a tough thing to do in our current economic environment,” he says.

Sudderth says improved harvesting tools would be a big asset for south Georgia growers. Some of the new varieties currently available have different maturity characteristics and the hull scrape and other systems for determining maturity have been helpful, but some of these newer varieties are going to need more precise timing for digging for optimal crop production, Sudderth says.

Strickland grows peanuts about as far north as anyone in the country. He says new peanut varieties top his priority list.

“We would like to see new varieties that are more adapted to our growing conditions. We are kind of stuck in a rut with the varieties we currently have. For example, we average about 19 inches of rainfall a year, so new varieties that are more drought resistant would be a big advantage for us,” Strickland says.

Despite having irrigation, the Texas grower says in the hot summer months it’s impossible to get enough water on his peanuts. With the ever increasing cost of water and closer regulatory scrutiny of water usage, peanuts with better drought tolerance would help from several standpoints.

Preparing land for peanuts is always a challenge, especially in areas where weather is a critical factor at planting time.

Sudderth uses wheat as a cover crop, but with some different twists. He plants wheat at 90 pounds per acre and burns it down early enough to prevent root systems from getting large enough to interfere with planting and with getting a good peanut stand.

All three growers have concerns about how peanuts are marketed and the price growers are too often forced to accept, if they want to grow peanuts. Each of the award winning growers grow peanuts for contract prices and note the price is pretty much set for them. Rentz grows a sizeable portion of his crop in green peanuts, which have some added value, but also have some added risks.

“With green peanuts, how they look is all important, so we have to grow varieties that have big, bright pods and these peanuts can’t have defects—otherwise people just won’t buy them.

“We’ve grown green peanuts for over 30 years and it’s been a good business for us, but growing them is time, labor and input demanding—it’s not for everybody,” Rentz says.

Rentz, Strickland and Sudderth make up the 12th group of Peanut Profitability Award winners.

Marshall Lamb, director of the USDA National Peanut Research Lab in Camilla, Ga., says the unique nature of the Peanut Profitability Award makes it significantly more than a yield contest.

“Farm Press recognized that just looking at yield was not always the most important issue. We had to look at other aspects of production, such as how well growers manage equipment costs, seed costs, crop management costs, compared to the price they receive for their peanuts.

“I think the most significant contribution of this award is education. With the winners of this award, we have the leading peanut farmers in the country and how they remain profitable year after year gives us a good baseline for the rest of the peanut growers in the country,” Lamb says.

The National Peanut Board sponsored this year’s awards breakfast, and Board Chairman Jeffrey Pope of Virginia says the Peanut Profitability winners are truly the “cream of the crop” in peanut production.

In addition to the National Peanut Board, sponsors of this year’s Peanut Profitability Awards include Arysta LifeScience, Becker Underwood, Enclosure, Golden Peanut Company, John Deere, Provost/Temik, Syngenta, U.S. Borax, Southeast Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press and Delta Farm Press.

email: rroberson@farmpress.com