One of the biggest mixed bags in recent years — that’s how some are describing the 2011 peanut production year.

“It all depended upon whether or not you got rainfall this year,” says Marshall Lamb, research director for the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga., and advisor for the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards, which is entering its 14th year and seeking nominees for its 13th class of winners.

Texas has suffered through its worst drought in history, says Lamb, and as a result, the peanut crop there was devastated, both dryland and irrigated.

“In the Southeast, some growers experienced severe drought conditions and some received rainfall,” he says. “While some of our growers harvested excellent crops — both irrigated and dryland — others ended up abandoning and destroying their crops. Peanut producers in the Virginia-Carolinas region had a pretty good crop overall.”

The jury is still out on the quality of this year’s crop, says Lamb. Quality problems were prevalent in the 2010 peanut crop, requiring that some of the peanuts be re-milled.

“We’ve heard talk that there are some quality problems with the 2011 crop, but we’re just now getting into some of the high-risk components of measuring quality. I don’t think it’ll be as bad as in 2010,” he says.

With tight supplies and the National Posted Price topping $1,200 per ton for runner peanuts, it would seem as though growers are in the driver’s seat as they approach the 2012 crop. There undoubtedly will be stiff competition for acreage among the various crops, but peanut producers should be careful not to overdo it, says Lamb.

“We’re in one of the most difficult situations we’ve ever been in as an industry,” he says.

“Carry-out from the 2011 crop into 2012 will be the lowest we’ve seen in years, probably the lowest we’ve seen in decades, so we know we have to increase peanut acres. But if we go overboard, we could put a surplus back into the market. It’s going to be difficult to produce just the right amount. It’ll be hard for growers to resist planting a lot of peanuts, especially with other commodity prices being on a downward trend recently.”

Peanut butter manufacturers already have increased the price of their products by 30 to 40 percent, in anticipation of future shortages.

Since the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards are based on production from the previous year, the 2012 class of winners most likely will come from irrigated production, says Lamb.

“Although some producers with irrigation made outstanding yields this year, it didn’t come without a price. The 2011 crop was an expensive one to make, so it’ll be a challenge to meet the criteria required for being a Peanut Profitability Award recipient,” he says.

Lamb has been advisor for the awards program since its inception, and he says it’s no easy feat for growers to be nominated for and then to win the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award.

“In a year like 2011, the educational component of the Peanut Profitability Program is more important than ever. Ideally, our winners from this year can help other growers by telling them how they survived and even prospered under difficult conditions,” he says.

Standard of excellence

Peanut Profitability has set a standard of excellence during its existence, says Lamb, and while it has never been an easy honor to earn, Lamb expects another fine group of nominees in 2012.

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 Lower Southeast, including Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi; the Upper Southeast, including Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina; and the Southwest, including Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

The awards program has honored 12 classes of winners from throughout the U.S. Peanut Belt. Since the program’s beginning in 2000, the Peanut Profitability Awards have honored 36 deserving growers. The Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards Program began with the first-ever Southern Peanut Growers Conference in conjunction with the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation.

Winners of the 2012 awards will receive an expenses-paid trip for two to the Southern Peanut Growers Conference, set for July of next year in Panama City, Fla. 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 creating the criteria for 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 with 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 by 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 to 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 and accuracy.

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 agent, peanut specialist or economist. The deadline for all nominations is April 15, 2012.

Growers can access the nomination form via the Internet at http://www.southeastfarmpress.com, http://www.southwestfarmpress.com, and http://www.deltafarmpress.com. In addition, it can be linked from

various commodity group websites.

To receive a hard copy of the form, call Farm Press headquarters at (662) 624-8503.

phollis@farmpress.com