As the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards program prepares to evaluate nominations for its 13th class of winners, organizers of the program have been sifting through mounds of data from previous honorees to arrive at a “Top 10 Keys to Peanut Profitability.”

This list of winning production practices will be presented in descending order, ending with the No. 1 Key to Peanut Profitability. “We looked at a lot of information in deciding on the Top 10 Keys,” says Marshall Lamb, research director for the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga., and advisor for the awards program since its inception.

“It has really been interesting to look at this data set and to see how producers have evolved along with the program.”

The 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 is based on a producer’s entire peanut operation rather than small plots in selected fields. A growers’ overall management is considered, including yields, costs and marketing management for the entire farm.

Lamb says the program is more relevant today than it has ever been.

“Over the 13-year history of the program, the peanut industry has really impressively turned into a high-tech business. This program has effectively trekked the evolution of the industry over the past 13 years.

“We’re dealing with farmers now who rely on smartphone and satellite technology, in addition to some of the best genetics, pesticides and other management technologies we’ve ever had available to us. It’s really interesting to look at this data set and see how peanut production has evolved over the years,” he says.

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 costs and price are equally important factors,” he says.

The grower nomination form for the Peanut Profitability Award is very extensive, considering both fixed and variable costs.

Detailed information gathered

In finalizing a Top 10 list, Lamb and National Peanut Lab technician Staci Ingram looked through the nomination forms of past winners, in addition to the stories that were published about the winners in Southeast Farm Press, Delta Farm Press and Southwest Farm Press.

“We were looking for what the growers defined as being their primary keys to success. While reviewing the data, it became evident to us what the most important or critical factors were on their farms. This will be a great educational tool to help other peanut producers achieve top yields and efficiency.”

The critical factors listed by growers were not surprising, says Lamb. “As drought continues in the Southwest and Southeast, irrigation and water use efficiency continue to be important,” he says.

Proactive farm management also has proven to be critical. According to Ingram, this is an all-encompassing term that takes into account timeliness.

“Many farmers said they wanted to keep a very close eye of what they did on the farm so that they never got behind, and that’s how we classified this management style. It means staying on top of disease management, weed control and other production practices. If you ever get behind in any one aspect, then you’ll fall behind in everything on the farm,” says Ingram.

And farmers have become more proactive and timely over the years, adds Lamb.

“I think it’s a new mentality of the growers who are still farming today. It’s a new management level. It’s almost a generational thing, and farmers now are more empowered to do more through cell and satellite technology and scouting techniques. They’ve got a better toolbox with which to be proactive,” he says.

Precision agriculture also is a concept that has evolved over the years, and it shows up prominently on the list. “It’s so common now. When we started the program, people were more or less experimenting with it. Now, everyone is at least using GPS and other basic precision farming practices,” says Lamb.

Cost management, as expected, is a critical factor in an awards program based on production efficiency. “In this case, it is weighted more towards the management of fixed costs — having your fixed costs balanced with the amount you’re farming,” says Lamb. “Some farmers use older equipment, take care of it, and, as a result, have little or no fixed costs. Some have too much equipment to do the job they need to do, and their fixed costs are extremely high.”

In two years of the awards program, the difference in who won the contest was their management of fixed costs, he says.

The deadline for all nominations for the Peanut Profitability Award is April 15. Winners will receive an expenses-paid trip for two to the Southern Peanut Growers Conference, set for July 19-21 in Panama City, Fla. They also will receive limited-edition signed and numbered prints from noted Southern watercolor artist Jack DeLoney.

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.

Growers can access the nomination form via the Internet at southeastfarmpress.com, southwestfarmpress.com, and 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