“The best of the best” — that was one description of this year’s Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award winners, honored in Panama City, Fla., as part of the 13thAnnual Southern Peanut Growers Conference.

Awards based on production efficiency were presented to producers from each growing region of the U.S. Peanut Belt.

The winners this year included the following: Lower Southeast Region — Kreg Freeman, Coquitt, Ga.; Upper Southeast Region — Vic Swinson, Mt. Olive, N.C.; and Southwest Region — Cornelius Enns, Seminole Texas;

“I would like to thank the 2011 award winners for their achievements this past year,” said Greg Frey, Farm Press publisher. “This marks the 12th class of Peanut Profitability Award winners and each class continues to impress with innovative production practices that help insure increased bottom-line profits.

“When you tell someone that a grower is a recipient of the Peanut Profitability Award, it means you are standing in the presence of greatness.”

Marshall Lamb, research director for the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga., has been advisor for the awards program from its beginning.

“It has been a wonderful program, with an excellent education component, and I thank Farm Press for the opportunity to participate,” said Lamb

When judging nominees for the awards, Lamb and his staff take into account the “total farm profitability picture.”

“It’s not small plots and parts of fields. It truly is a total farm profitability picture of the peanut enterprise on their farm so that we can glean out some educational programs to help other growers. Looking at total farm profitability brings into account production, which accounts for yields, on both dryland and irrigated peanuts.

“We had tremendous yields this year, ranging from about 4,000 pounds per acre on extensive dryland production up to 6,626 pounds on irrigated — we just had phenomenal yields this year,” he said.

Lamb says he also considers marketing, on both irrigated and non-irrigated peanuts. “Farmers are really starting to become much better marketers of their crops than they used to be. They are more aware of marketing and of their various options.”

Finally, he says, cost management is weighed. “To me, this is the most important part of the program. Variable costs are very difficult to control. Many times, when we have a drought along with a pest outbreak, you’re going to have to irrigate, and you’re going to have to put out some pesticide or fungicide.

“But the key component I’ve seen with this year’s winners and with winners from past years is the management of fixed costs. They know exactly where they need to be in terms of equipment costs and with all of their fixed costs elements.

“On more than one occasion, that has made the difference between someone winning the program and someone coming in second or third. These guys did a great job of managing fixed costs.”

The honorees for 2011 also are very innovative in finding ways to manage fixed costs, said Lamb. “One of our growers this year gets help harvesting his crop from his brother. They find innovative ways to help reduce fixed costs yet still get the crop in.”

The educational component of Peanut Profitability is as important if not more important then the recognition part of the program, said Lamb.

Sharing knowledge with industry

“What these winners are giving back to the peanut community far outweighs what they’re receiving for being part of this awards program. They’ve shared what they know with the entire peanut community.”

During a question-and-answer session following the awards presentation, this year’s Peanut Profitability honorees were asked about their primary source of information regarding peanut production and farming in general.

Freeman, of the Lower Southeast, says he has always relied on his Extension Agent Tim Moore, and the specialists with the Extension Service.

“Whenever we call on them for anything, we get an answer back pretty quick. I wish the referendum for the extra $1 for the Georgia Peanut Commission had passed, because I know we’re going to run into problems that they need to be on top of pretty quickly. I’m afraid the answers won’t be there as quickly as they have been in the past,” says Freeman.

Swinson, of the Upper Southeast, says he is very fortunate to have North Carolina State University, a land grant university, and the peanut specialist there, David Jordan, as his primary sources of information.

“They have always helped us on the farm, along with our county Extension agent. We also talk to other farmers in other areas about issues,” says Swinson.

Enns of the Southwest says he relies mostly on his neighbors and Extension personnel for information as it relates to Texas peanut production.

In response to a question about whether they use generic or brand-name products in their pest management programs, the answers were mixed.

“I stick with brand-name products,” says Freeman. “Some of these foreign products may have the same chemical name, but you don’t know what the carrier is. I’ve never had too much luck with them. If you do have problems with name-brand products, you can always go back to your rep.”

Swinson says he started out using only name-brand products but has changed over time. “I’m a label reader, so I switched to generics. It saves us a lot of money. I’m all about the dollars.”

Like Freeman, Enns prefers the brand-name products. “I stick with the brand names because they’ve been around longer, and you can go back to your chemical rep because they usually guarantee their products.”

Sponsors of this year’s awards include include Arysta, Becker Underwood, Devgen, Golden Peanut, Syngenta, U.S. Borax, John Deere, National Peanut Board, Southeast Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press and Delta Farm Press.

phollis@farmpress.com