Following challenging production years in 2010 and 2011, U.S. peanut growers proved this past season what they can do when conditions are ideal.

The result was an astounding 4,192-pound-per-acre average, shattering all previous records.

“In the years prior to 2012, we were getting a glimpse of what was possible,” says Marshall Lamb, research director for the National Peanut Research Laboratory and advisor for the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards.

New varieties and new technology were steadily pushing yields higher. “We kept wondering what these farmers would do — with the available technology and varieties — if we ever had a really good year. Well, this past year was a really good one — weather wise — and our growers proved what they were capable of doing,” says Lamb.

The final average yield from 2012 was “mind-boggling,” he adds. “There wasn’t a weak spot in the U.S. Peanut Belt. It proves to me that not only can our growers manage the really hard years, like 2010 and 2011, but they also proved what they can do when the weather is as good as it was this past year.”

The expertise of U.S. peanut producers is readily evident, says Lamb.

“Better than any technology we could hope for, we now have a group of farmers who excel under any conditions. Our farmers and their management capabilities were as big a part of the success this past year as improved varieties or anything else.

“We knew 10 years ago, when this current farm bill was passed that it was a production farm bill, and that farmers had to be able to produce to survive. Our 14th class of Peanut Profitability Award winners is proof of this.”

The winning growers will be honored during the 15th annual Southern Peanut Growers Conference at the Edgewater Beach Resort in Panama City, Fla., July 18-20.

Each of this year’s winning growers represents one of the three major U.S. peanut production regions — the Southwest Region, the Upper Southeast Region and the Lower Southeast Region. Farm Press established the awards program in cooperation with the Southern Peanut Growers Conference and the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation.

This year’s honorees include:

Lower Southeast Region — Tim McMillan, Southern Grace Farms, Enigma, Ga.

Upper Southeast Region — Jart Hudson, Turkey, N.C.

Southwest Region — Murray Phillips, Pearsall, Texas.

 “Tim McMillan, our Lower Southeast winner, had outstanding yields, right at 3 tons per acre, and less than a 200-pound-per-acre difference between his irrigated and non-irrigated, which means that weather and other factors were just right for non-irrigated peanuts.

“And it has been at least six or seven years since we had a winner with fixed costs as low as Tim’s. It’s a matter of keeping the right balance of equipment that has depreciated out versus that which may still have some depreciation on it. And the right balance relative to the number of acres that he’s growing is important,” says Lamb.

The Upper Southeast winner — Jart Hudson — has an excellent group of workers who have years of experience in planting and digging a peanut crop, says Lamb.

Murray Phillips of the Southwest region achieves top peanut yields over a large acreage by emphasizing the basics, such as irrigation, fungicide applications, rotation and fertility, he says.

The Peanut Profitability Award isn’t a high-yield award for selected plots or acreages, says Greg Frey, publisher of Farm Press Publications. “Our Peanut Profitability Award winners are in a class by themselves. They balance production costs with excellent yields and quality across their entire peanut production operations,” says Frey.

The 2013 Peanut Profitability Award winners controlled costs while maximizing yields and profits, says Frey. “When peanut producers achieve this balance, it’s important that we recognize them for their accomplishments,” he says.

But recognizing deserving growers isn’t the only aim of the Peanut Profitability Program, he adds.

“Education is an equally important component of the program. There’s much to learn about successful peanut production, and Farm Press helps to make this information available by publishing numerous articles throughout the year focusing on maintaining high yields and efficiency.

“Growers also will benefit from reading about the productions practices of this year’s award winners.”

Lamb and his staff at the National Peanut Research Laboratory evaluate entries each year for the Peanut Profitability Award. Lamb designed the nomination form that is used by growers in determining production efficiency.

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.

Lamb explains that profit is a function of three equally important factors – yield, price and cost.

“More importantly, this program helps other farmers learn from what our winning producers did so they can improve their individual operations. In addition to being a recognition program, it’s also an excellent educational program.”

Sponsors of this year’s awards include AMVAC Chemical, Arysta LifeScience, BASF, DuPont Crop Protection, Golden Peanut Company, Helena Chemical Company, John Deere and Company, National Peanut Board, Rio Tinto Minerals, Southeast Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press and Delta Farm Press.