Winners of the 2014 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards represented a generational cross-section of American agriculture, all taking different paths to the common goal of production efficiency. From bone-dry in the Southwest to flooding in the Southeast, this year’s honorees persevered through opposite extremes of weather conditions.

This year’s award winners include: Southwest Region — Isaac, John and George Guenther, Gaines County, Texas; Lower Southeast Region — Owen Yoder, Orrville, Ala.; and Upper Southeast Region — Billy Bain, Dinwiddie, Va.

The awards were presented on July 26, in Panama City, Fla., as part of the 16th Annual Southern Peanut Growers Conference. Producers from each growing region of the U.S. Peanut Belt were honored for their production efficiency during an awards breakfast that has been a highlight of the meeting since its inception.

“This year marks the 15th class of winning Peanut Profitability Award growers, and each class continues to impress with their innovate techniques of improving profitability and bottom-line profits,” said Greg Frey, publisher of Farm Press. “When you say that a farmer is the recipient of the Peanut Profitability Award, you know you are standing in the presence of greatness.”

Marshall Lamb, research leader for the National Peanut Research Laboratory and advisor for the Peanut Profitability Award Program thanked the winning growers for submitting their nomination this year.

“I’d also like to thank the farmers who submitted their nominations this year who did not win the award. The competition was very close in many cases, and we had a lot of fine farmers who were willing to go through the rigorous nominating process,” says Lamb.

The Peanut Profitability Award takes a “complete picture” of a peanut enterprise on a farm, says Lamb. “When we look at profitability, we’re basically looking at the components of yield multiplied by the price minus the costs. Yields are pretty cut and dry, but we also take into account the peanut grades,” he says.

Marketing was a major factor in the judging this year, says Lamb.

“Each of the three winning farm operations did an outstanding job of marketing their crops relative to some of the other nominations we saw and relative to the average price we saw and the price that a lot of peanut farmers received. Marketing is always very important, and these growers did an outstanding job this year in that department,” he says.

The cost side of the equation is often the most difficult for farmers to control, says Lamb. “We’re taking a complete view of the peanut farm, and we break down costs, with some irrigated and some non-irrigated production. We get the cost structure for each of those because oftentimes they will vary. We also ask for a complete breakdown of variable costs, including fertilizer, pesticides and other inputs. In addition, we consider fixed costs. The management of fixed costs is often one of the most important elements in efficiency. We break down the fixed costs by the piece of equipment allocated to the farm enterprise. Each of our winners did an exceptional job this year of managing these fixed costs. That has been a consistent theme throughout the history of this program.”

The highest yield per acre and the lowest cost per acre are combined to achieve the highest efficiency, says Lamb.

Recognition and education are equally important parts of the Peanut Profitability Award Program, he adds.

“A major component of this program – and Farm Press has done an excellent job with this – is the education component. The farmers who took a lot of time to provide this information and to take time away from their farms to attend this awards presentation not only are they receiving this award, but they are also giving back to the peanut industry. They’re giving back to their fellow farmers by allowing us to take a picture of their farm and then to share it with other farmers in their area in the form of education. That’s one of the most important elements of this competition, and it’s a very unselfish gift back to the industry.”

Winning growers credit new varieties

Lower Southeast winner Owen Yoder said he was honored and humbled to be a part of the Peanut Profitability Awards.

“It’s a privilege. It’s something I enjoy doing. I can’t say that I’m a better farmer than anyone else here, but I can say that I enjoy what I do just about better than anyone else. The Lord has been good to me, and I truly enjoy what I do,” said Yoder.

Upper Southeast region winner Billy Bain gave much of the credit for his success to the Cooperative Extension Service at Virginia Tech University. “If I didn’t have my Extension agent, I don’t know where I’d be. Also, I’d like to thank all of the researchers who help us to stay on top of the changing technologies in growing our crops, especially peanuts. It’s good to see young people involved in this program – someone has got to step up to the plate. There are a lot of businesses and corporations that make money from agriculture, and we have to be there and make sure we get our share of the cake, he says.

Peanut farmers did a lot for themselves, says Bain, by joining together and forming the National Peanut Board.

John Guenther, accepting the Peanut Profitability Award for the Southwest region along with brothers Isaac and George, said it was a great and unexpected honor to be presented the award. The brothers received only about 3 inches of rain during the 2013 growing season but still produced 6,680 pounds of peanuts over 465 acres.

All of the winning growers credited the development of new varieties with their success in producing high yields and good quality.

“Plant breeders and the new varieties are a main reason that we’re where we are today, growing the crops that we grow,” said Yoder. “Bringing new varieties to the table will be the future of the peanut industry. It’s very important that breeders continue to bring disease resistance and high-yielding peanuts to the table.”

Bain said the development of the Bailey peanut variety had probably been the biggest breakthrough in his region because of its yield and disease resistance.

“The Bailey has really helped us to turn things around. But that’s not to discredit other varieties like Sugg and those that are currently in the pipeline that will be on the same level,” he said.

Bain said he had been fortunate over the years to have research conducted on his farm, either by companies or by the Cooperative Extension Service. “I also look at publications and attend field days. There’s nothing better than hands-on experience and learning from your own observations,” he said.

John Guenther said it’s vitally important that peanut producers continue to have improved varieties to plant. “When we were growing up we didn’t have varieties like Brantley and Gregory on the farm, but since we began growing them, our yields and quality have increased.”

Considering all of the information sources currently available to farmers, John said that he and his brothers still depend the most on their father for advice and guidance.

“We’ve been farming since 2007, but our dad has been farming since the early 1990s, and he’s our go-to guy for any information we need. If we’re not sure about something, we always ask him.”

Sponsors for this year’s Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award include Agri-AFC, AMVAC Chemical Corporation, Arysta LifeScience, BASF, DuPont Crop Protection, Golden Peanut Company, Helena Chemical Company, John Deere, the National Peanut Board, Southeast Farm Press, Delta Farm Press and Southwest Farm Press.