More than 10 years ago, when Farm Press first approached Marshall Lamb about helping to establish a peanut awards program honoring production efficiency, he was “intrigued” by the possibility.

At the time, U.S. peanut producers were governed by a quota program, and most of the emphasis was placed on making the highest yields possible. There have always been high-yield contests, but measuring efficiency was a relatively new concept.

But Lamb, director of the USDA National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga., along with others, knew the quota soon would be a thing of the past, and the survival of peanut producers would depend on their ability to produce the highest-yielding, highest-quality crop at the lowest possible cost. Peanuts would be placed on a level playing field with other commodities, and competition would be the name of the game.

While the traditional yield contests are very important, says Lamb, they don’t paint as complete a picture of a total farm operation. The Peanut Profitability Program was designed to encompass the elements of price — which reflects a farmer’s ability to market well, and cost — which reflects a grower’s cost management, both fixed and variable.

Farm Press decided at the outset that Lamb and the peanut lab’s involvement was necessary to lend objectivity and credibility to the program. And establishing the criteria to insure this was not an easy task, says Lamb, especially when considering such a diverse mix of farmers, ranging from as few as 100 acres of peanuts to as many as 2,000 acres.

But while the award’s entry pool indeed has been diverse, one characteristic remains constant among winners, says Lamb. “Growers can’t win an award such as this if they don’t have the best management practices. These honorees are on top of the learning curve,” he says.

While serving as research director at the National Peanut Research Laboratory, Lamb has also maintained his role as genuine grower, farming with his brother in southwest Georgia. This gives him a unique insight into the special challenges faced each day by producers.

“I enjoy the farming side,” he says. “It’s a good escape from sitting behind a desk, to be able to actively go out in the fields and work.”

And Lamb has great admiration for the men and women who farm 24/7. “I can’t imagine not knowing whether or not a check was coming and if it was coming, not knowing how much it would be for. And knowing that something like weather, that’s totally out of your control, could take your entire crop away from you — that’s a lot of stress to handle.”

Lamb says he has enjoyed his participation in the program over these past 10 years. “It has been a lot of fun for me, and I have learned a lot of lessons. The information these nominees and winners have submitted on their nomination forms has helped us immensely in our research efforts at the lab,” he says.

When Farm Press first began working with Lamb on the program, publishing stories focusing on production efficiency, he always stressed the profit equation (Profit=Yields x Price-Cost) and it’s relevant today more than ever before.

“That’s what farmers need to see — you can’t just give them the formula for higher yields,” he says. “My brother remarked once that he didn’t have to impress anyone but his banker. That’s what it comes down to — the numbers.”

The Peanut Profitability Program began with the inaugural Southern Peanut Growers Conference, held each year in Panama City, Fla., and the program has grown through the years along with this important meeting.

The program has a record number of sponsors this year. They 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 and U.S. Borax.

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com