The 2009 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards honored its 10th class of winners during the recent Southern Peanut Growers Conference in Panama City, Fla., and this year’s contest garnered a record number of nominees from throughout the Peanut Belt, says Marshall Lamb, research director for the National Peanut Laboratory and advisor for the program.

“It was an incredibly close competition this year in all aspects of the contest,” says Lamb. “What’s very interesting about the program this year is that price — the selling price that the farmer received for his crop — made the difference.”

The awards presentation was made at the 11th annual Southern Peanut Growers Conference held in Panama City.

Recipients of this year’s awards include Southeast Region, T.E. Moye Jr., Newton, Ga.; Southwest Region, Weldon Shook, Gaines County, Texas; and Virginia-Carolinas Region, John Crumpler, Suffolk, Va.

Recalling that he was asked to advise the program and to come up with a nomination form for the contest more than 10 years ago, Lamb says, “It has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of this program — I have truly enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in it. I also want to thank the sponsors, without whom this program would not be possible,” he says.

The Peanut Profitability Program looks at the whole farm picture, says Lamb. “We don’t just take one field, or a segment of a field, but the entire farm, and we look at it from a profitability standpoint. We look at both the variable and fixed costs, and we also look at yield and price.”

With the current farm bill, peanut producers know they must be good producers and must make good yields, he adds. “We have to be managers, and we have to keep our costs to a minimum. But this year really highlighted the fact that marketing our crop is equally important, and that’s what made the difference this year,” says Lamb.

Ron Smith, editor of Southwest Farm Press, says the Peanut Profitability Awards represent an opportunity to recognize the best peanut farmers in the world.

Sponsorship of the program has been the best ever this year, he says, and the corporate sponsors and others like the National Peanut Board, the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation and Texas Peanut Producers Board help to make the presentation of the awards possible.

“And Marshall Lamb’s oversight and consultation with the program have been invaluable,” says Smith. “His knowledge of the peanut industry and the economic climate in which farmers strive to make a profit from peanuts is unparalleled.”

Including this year’s class of winners, the program has now recognized 30 outstanding peanut farmers over the past 10 years, says Smith. “And I think I and the other editors would agree that these 30 represent some of the best, most dedicated, and finest farmers we’ve ever met.”

Each of these year’s winners brought a unique attribute to the program, says Lamb.

The Lower Southeast Region winner, T.E. Moye Jr., showed great perseverance this past year, averaging 4,600 to 4,700 pounds per acre from about 100 dryland acres that essentially were made with one good rainfall, says Lamb.

Moye, who has been growing peanuts for 29 years, looks at his yield goals and then figures out the least amount of inputs he can use to achieve those goals. He tries to gross $1,000 per acre on his farm, which means he doesn’t skimp on the things he knows will make him money, including timely fungicide applications. He also is a big believer in holding onto equipment as long as possible, but keeping it well-maintained.

Looking ahead to challenges facing U.S. peanut producers, Moye says he considers the primary one being deciding which crop to grow. “We actually may have to lay some land out if we don’t see the possibility of a profit from the start. We can’t grow peanuts for $350 per ton. I think we’ll have to change our decision-making process when it comes to which crops to grow,” says Moye.

Virginia-Carolinas winner John Crumpler faces urban sprawl in the area in which he farms, says Lamb, and is faced with the challenge of producing more with fewer acres.

Crumpler is the reigning Virginia Peanut Yield Champion for 2009. Last year, he produced nearly 5,700 pounds of Champs and NC-V-11 Virginia-type peanuts per acre. Though yield and profitability don’t always go hand-in-hand, in Crumpler’s case they do. Yield is the name of the game in Virginia these days, he says.

“I think our biggest challenge for the future is protecting our investment,” says Crumpler. “We have to cover our expenses and protect our crop.”

With Weldon Shook of Texas, says Lamb, it’s good to see some younger farmers who are coming in and doing well. “A lot of us who come to this meeting have a little bit less hair and a lot more grey hair each year. It’s good to see some young blood coming in, and it’s great to see a young farmer who incorporates his family into his farming operation,” says Lamb.

Shook typically makes 5,000 pounds of peanuts per acre, and his best field in 2008 topped three tons. He says rotation is the key to making good peanuts year after year. He rotates with cotton, often uses a rye cover crop, goes four years between peanuts crops, and is looking at adding grain sorghum to the mix next year. Shook doesn’t skimp on irrigation — last year was so dry, he kept the system running most of the season.

“The water issue is the biggest challenge facing us in our area,” says Shook. “We have to be the most efficient users of water we can be. We must to be able to make a crop with the water we have available to us.”

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

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com