This past year was probably the most interesting year growers have seen in the history of peanut production, says Marshall Lamb, research director for the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga., and advisor for the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards.

“We started off with some very good prices in an under-supplied market because of the cutbacks we saw in acres in 2006 and 2007,” says Lamb. “We planted the crop in the Southeast in extreme drought conditions, and the drought persisted for awhile.”

In 2008, farmers planted the right amount of acres to supply the market assuming average yields, he says. “Our farmers did not over-plant last year’s crop. Even up until mid-summer, at about August, we honestly thought we had a crop disaster on our hands, and growers spent a tremendous amount of money irrigating,” says Lamb.

But everything changed when Tropical Storm Fay came through, wetting virtually the entire Southeast Peanut Belt, he says. “It was a definite game changer for all of us. We went from thinking we had a crop disaster with farmers worried about making ends meet to delivering the highest quality and quantity peanut crop we’ve ever delivered. That took us immediately from a deficit supply situation to a surplus supply situation. We saw all ends of the spectrum last year, from extreme drought and anticipation of a terrible crop to one good rainfall changing the entire Southeastern Peanut Belt and a more than 900,000-ton carryout as a result,” says Lamb.

Farmers have to manage all situations, he says, and this ability to adapt exemplifies the winners of this year’s Peanut Profitability Awards. “It’s a tough task, but farmers responded by reducing acreage for this year, and wet weather conditions during planting will result in further reductions,” he says.

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.

The winning growers will be honored during the eighth annual Southern Peanut Growers Conference at the Edgewater Beach Resort in Panama City, Fla., July 12-14.

This year’s winners include:

Lower Southeast Region — T.E. Moye, Jr., Newton, Ga.

Upper Southeast Region — John Crumpler, Suffolk, Va.

Southwest Region — Weldon Shook, Seminole, Texas.

“We continue to be impressed with the caliber of our nominees and winning growers, especially in the face of difficult obstacles,” says Greg Frey, publisher of Farm Press Publications. “These growers balance production costs with excellent yields and quality. This is what has earned them the distinction of being named Peanut Profitability Award winners.”

The 2009 honorees maintained high yields and grades, controlled costs, and maximized profits in their operations, says Frey. “All of these factors combined to make for a successful peanut farming operation — you can’t have one without the others and stay in business 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.

Entries in the awards program are evaluated by Lamb, who designed the nomination form that is used by growers in determining production efficiency.

Looking at this year’s honorees, Lamb says Moye of Georgia did a great job of marketing his crop. “He had the highest selling price of all of the winners and of all the Southeastern nominees. Crumpler and Shook won with their high yields. All of our winners this year irrigated and rotated well and this resulted in good yields and good quality,” he says.

Marketing will continue to increase in importance for peanut growers who wish to maintain production efficiency, he says. “A low percentage of our farmers are contracting right now. But acres have been cut, and hopefully we’ll get supply back in line with demand toward the end of the 2009 crop, and farmers want to be in position to market this crop. In previous years, some growers would already be out of the market, but they’ll delay this year and some will even utilize the loan to market this crop, which is exactly what it was set up to do,” says Lamb.

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.

Sponsors of this year’s awards include Arysta LifeScience, BASF, Bayer CropScience, Becker Underwood, Golden Peanut Company, John Deere, Helena, National Peanut Board, Senninger Irrigation, Sipcam Agro USA, Inc., Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, Syngenta, Texas Peanut Producers Board, U.S. Borax, Southeast Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press and Delta Farm Press.

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com