The 2008 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award winners included one former teacher, but all of the honorees are teachers in a sense, says Marshall Lamb, research director for the National Peanut Research Laboratory and advisor for the program.
“I see these winners — and what they share with the industry and how they are successful in their operations — as being teachers for the rest of us, and helping to make the rest of us successful as we go back to our own farms,” says Lamb.
The awards presentation was made at the 10th annual Southern Peanut Growers Conference held in Panama City. Recipients of this year's awards include Southeast Region, Mike Nugent, Willachoochee, Ga.; Southwest Region, Otis Johnson, Seminole, Texas; and Virginia-Carolina Region, William McElveen, Bishopville, S.C.
“The Peanut Profitability Award truly gives a whole-farm picture of the peanut production on these growers' farms,” says Lamb. “We look at both the variable and fixed costs, and whenever we look at both components of cost, it takes a while for these farmers and perhaps their wives to compile all of the information required.”
After looking at variable and fixed costs, Lamb says, the nomination process then looks at the entire yield on the farm, for both irrigated and dryland peanuts. “From this, we decide the winners — whoever has the lowest per-unit cost of production,” he says.
Once the National Peanut Research Laboratory receives this information, it is kept in the strictest of confidence, he adds. “We don't look at high yields in single, small plots, but we take into account the overall profitability of the peanut enterprise,” says Lamb.
The 2008 winners represent the ninth class of Peanut Profitability Award honorees, says Farm Press Publisher Greg Frey. “Since its inception in 2000, this awards program has honored 27 deserving growers from throughout the Southeast, Virginia-Carolina and Southwest regions of the United States,” says Frey.
The Peanut Profitability Program began with the first Southern Peanut Growers Conference and the two have grown together, he says. “Each class of winners continues to impress with their innovative technologies and creativity in improving bottom-line profits,” he says.
The awards program is continuing to grow, adds Frey, with Mississippi growers becoming eligible to receive the honors that will be presented in 2009. Mississippi is now recognized by the USDA as a major peanut-producing state.
Since Farm Press began the Peanut Profitability Awards, the industry has undergone monumental changes, says Frey, moving from a government quota program to a more market-oriented approach.
“The aim of Peanut Profitability has been to recognize those growers who have shown adaptability in the face of change, and who have continued to produce profitable crops. This year's class of winners exemplifies the peanut growers who have overcome the perils of farming while continuing to improve their profitability. To be in the presence of a Peanut Profitability Award winner is to truly be in the presence of greatness,” he says.
Upper Southeast winner William McElveen — a former high school history teacher and football coach — has grown peanuts for more than 25 years. A key to profitability, he says, is being able to find and keep good labor.
“Finding labor, teaching them how to do things on the farm, and inspiring them to do their best is critical to managing our farm,” says McElveen. Another key, he adds, is being able to recognize the value of new technology and new production information and adapting those new ideas to his particular operation.
Southwest winner Otis Johnson relies on no-till, with wheat stubble used to protect peanut seedlings from blowing sand. The residue also helps to hold the moisture that is at such a premium in west Texas.
He counts irrigation efficiency as possibly the most critical aspect of maintaining profitability in peanut production.
Johnson says west Texas growers are in the business of selling water — through peanuts and other crops — and they sell water cheap, so he has to pump it carefully. A strict four-year rotation also is essential for efficient peanut production, he says.
Lower Southeast honoree Mike Nugent is a firm believer in the benefits of rotation. His 2007 crop was the result of a 15-year to 16-year rotation. His philosophy for maintaining profitability is to manage and stay on top of things, or as he says, “Just use common sense.”
Nugent has been planting no-till for about 12 years, and it helps to reduce fuel costs and maintain soil moisture. Since he is not a large-scale farmer, he does his best to make every acre of his farm productive. In addition to growing peanuts and cotton, Nugent also has four broiler houses and runs about 140 head of brood cows.
Sponsors of this year's awards include Bayer CropScience, Golden Peanut Co., John Deere, SIPCAM AGRO USA, INC., the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, the Texas Peanut Board, U.S. Borax, Southeast Farm Press and Southwest Farm Press.