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.