Winners of the 2003 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards have met the challenge of operating under a totally revamped government program, while finding new and innovative ways of maintaining production efficiency.

Each of the winners represents one of the three major U.S. peanut production regions — the Southwest Region, the Southeast Region and the Virginia-Carolina Region. The awards program was established by Farm Press in cooperation with the Southern Peanut Growers Conference and the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation.

"U.S. peanut producers faced a tremendous challenge this past year when their program was changed under the new farm bill," says Mike Gonitzke, publisher of the Farm Press Publications. "After operating under the same program for more than six decades, growers were placed in an entirely different situation, moving from government quotas to a more market-oriented approach. Our award winners have adapted to this change while improving their efficiency and their bottom lines."

The 2003 honorees, says Gonitzke, are achieving high yields and grades while at the same time maximizing profits. "You can’t have one without the other and remain in peanut production for very long. These growers recognize that production costs and price are as important as high yields in the profit equation, and these factors became even more important with the advent of the new peanut program."

Recognizing deserving growers, says Gonitzke, is only one part of the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Program. "Education is an equally important component of this program, and Farm Press accomplishes this by publishing numerous articles throughout the year focusing on production efficiency in peanuts. Growers also will benefit from reading about the production practices of our award winners," he says.

The winning growers will be honored during the fourth annual Southern Peanut Growers Conference at the Edgewater Beach Resort in Panama City, Fla., July 20-22.

This year’s winners include:

o Southwest Region — Roger Neitsch, Seminole, Texas.

o Southeast Region — Mike Newberry, Arlington, Ga.

o Virginia-Carolina Region — Ricky Kneece, Pelion, S.C.

Entries in the awards program are evaluated by Marshall Lamb, economist with the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga., and a research fellow with Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Lamb, who serves as advisor to the program, designed the nomination form that is used by growers in determining production efficiency.

There are several commonalties among this year’s Peanut Profitability Award winners, says Lamb. "Irrigation and great yields certainly were common factors among this year’s three winners. Yields were tremendous, with all of our winners averaging more than 5,000 pounds per acre and our Southwest Region winner averaging 6,600 pounds per acre," he says.

The 2003 honorees also practiced good rotation, he adds. "In addition, all of these guys were aggressive farmers. They did whatever it took to make the yields they were shooting for. They did not cut corners, and they didn’t hesitate spending money if they could see a return in yields," says Lamb.

This year’s entries also stressed the importance of managing fixed costs, he says. "For example, our Southeast winner came out on top because he did such a good job of having the right amount of equipment for the right amount of land. He won because this program looks at returns or profitability over total costs. It’s very important to know your fixed or equipment costs."

Each of the 2003 Peanut Profitability Award winners also boasted a high-quality crop, says Lamb. "Overall grades were extremely high, with all being at least a 77. High grades are just another sign of good management."

The Peanut Profitability Awards are based solely on production efficiency — honoring those growers who produce the highest yields at the lowest cost per acre. The awards are based on a producer’s entire farm operation, and not just on individual farms or small plots.

The goal of achieving efficiency, says Lamb, has become even more paramount with the government’s new peanut program.

"Under the old peanut program, we would fill our quotas and then sell additional peanuts. Now, our total production is marketed for a flat price. If you can make better yields, you can capture much more from your extra production. That translates into a boost in income for our better growers."

For more information on this year’s winners and their production practices, see the articles in the July 2 issue of Southeast Farm Press.

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com