Winners of the 2004 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards combined a year of record or near-record yields with innovative and efficient production systems to distinguish themselves among their peers.

This year’s award recipients helped to achieve a U.S.-record average yield of 3,159 pounds per acre, while at the same time keeping an eye on their respective bottom lines.

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 growers were blessed this past year with the weather conditions necessary to grow and harvest a bountiful crop,” says Greg Frey, publisher of the Farm Press Publications. “But our Peanut Profitability Award winners recognize that production costs and price are as important as high yields in the profit equation.”

The 2004 honorees, says Frey, 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,” he says.

Recognizing deserving growers, says Frey, 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.

Another part of the education component, presented for the first time this year, is the Peanut Profitability Internship Program. Funds from the program are awarded to a deserving college or university student majoring in agricultural journalism or a related field. This year’s recipient, Rebecca Bearden, is a senior at Auburn University.

The agricultural communications major is working the summer semester with Southeast Farm Press.

The winning growers will be honored during the sixth annual Southern Peanut Growers Conference at the Edgewater Beach Resort in Panama City, Fla., July 18-20.

This year’s winners include:

• Southeast Region — Sauls Partnership, Randolph County, Ga.

• Virginia-Carolina Region — Joseph H. Ward, Chowan County, N.C.

• Southwest Region — Jimbo Grissom, Gaines County, Texas.

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 adviser to the program, designed the nomination form that is used by growers in determining production efficiency.

One of the common traits among this year’s Peanut Profitability winners, says Lamb, is that they were not afraid to spend the money required to make good yields, which ultimately benefited their bottom lines.

“We’ve had a couple of winners in the past who held back on inputs and sacrificed yields in the process. But that’s not true with this year’s group. They all made very high yields, and the Southeast benefited this past year from extremely good growing conditions,” says Lamb.

The majority of the winning growers’ cropland was irrigated, he says. But in the Southeast, where the Sauls family is irrigating 75 percent of their peanut crop, even the dryland yields were outstanding due to plentiful rainfall during 2004, says Lamb.

The 2004 honorees also practiced good crop rotation with their peanuts, he adds. “Another key to efficiency for these growers was detailed management. Their management skills translated into extremely good yields over a large amount of peanut acreage.”

The Peanut Profitability Awards, explains Lamb, 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.

“The 2004 Peanut Profitability winners all did a super job marketing their crops,” he says.

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com