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This story is the fifth and final installment of the Southeast Farm Press “Peanut: It’s Sustainable” series sponsored by AMVAC/Thimet.

17 years of top peanut farmers’ data shows us something

The 17 consecutive years of data collected through the Farm Press Peanut Efficiency Award program can provide valuable snapshots of U.S. peanut production’s past and a peek at its potential.

Data, even good data, is only stagnate statistics if not explored and shared in a way to educate. The 17 consecutive years of data collected through the Farm Press Peanut Efficiency Award program provides valuable snapshots of U.S. peanut production’s past and a peek at its potential.

Recently, Marshall Lamb, research director of the USDA National Peanut Lab and advisor to the Farm Press Peanut Efficiency Award, sat down and collectively analyzed the data submitted by all the nominees from the past 17 years of the PEA program, which provides a particular data set representing top peanut producers from the early years when the industry weaned itself off the quota system to the modern era of major advancements in yield potential per acre.

This story is the fifth and final installment of the Southeast Farm Press “Peanut: It’s Sustainable” series sponsored by AMVAC/Thimet.

“As we went back and looked at all of the nominees over time, I’m reminded of just how close some years were between the nominees and by just the smallest of margins a winner was determined and that we are looking at top producers over a considerable length of time,” Lamb said, who added that an individual nominee’s data has always been and remains confidential.

For each year of the program, three overall winners are picked: one winner from the Southwestern part of the U.S. peanut belt, one winner from the Upper Southeastern part of the peanut belt, and one winner from the Lower Southeastern part.

All the winners and most of the nominees over the years reinforce the mantra that outstandingly high yields bolstered by dogged cost management and smart marketing are the three primary factors to profitable, efficient peanut production today, he said.

The Peanut Efficiency Award program today evolved from what used to be called the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award. This award program was not established to be a yield contest and doesn’t strive to be that today, but Lamb said it’s not hard to notice in the data just how important yield increases, particularly in the last five to six years, have become to efficient peanut production today. The program has also drawn a wide range in total peanut acres farmed by the nominees. The lowest amount of total peanut acres farmed by a nominee was 80 acres. The highest amount of acres farmed by a nominee was 5,800 acres, with the average of all nominees being 402 acres across all three regions.

To better get a handle on the data for comparison purposes, Lamb broke it down into three time periods over the 17 years of the program: early period between 2000 and 2005, middle period between 2006 and 2011, and late period between 2012 and 2016.

The Yields

For the early years of the program, the average yield for all nominees was 4,402 pounds per acre. The national average yield for the same timeframe was 2,861 pounds per acre, which means the nominees’ average yield was 154 percent higher than the national average.

For the middle years of the program, the average yield for all nominees was 5,096 pounds per acre. The national average yield for this time was 3,191 pounds per acre, putting the nominees’ average yield 160 percent higher than national average during the same period.

For the late period of the program, the average yield for all nominees was 6,347 pounds per acre. The national average yield for the same time, which includes data from our most recent harvest, was 3,820 pounds per acre, putting the nominees’ average yield 166 percent higher than national average.

“The message here is that the nominees and winners are progressing in their yield increases faster than the national average is progressing. While this may not seem significant, in reality it is significant because when a producer is already producing very high yields it is difficult to continue to raise the bar even higher. But the data show participants in this program do,” Lamb said.

Some years, the overall winner was not always the one with the highest per-average yield but was the one who did the more effective job of controlling variable and fixed costs and a better job of marketing the crop, he said. For all three time periods, nominees typically received above-average prices per ton.

Above-average Prices

If you take the lowest average-season price reported and compare it to the highest average-season price reported by nominees during the early period of the program, which again covers 2000 to 2005, you get a difference of only $22 per ton. “Not much of a difference between the lowest and highest prices the nominees received during this time, but remember part of this time period was still during the quota system and then growers had to learn how to market under the new farm bill and out of the quota system,” he said.

If you take the lowest average-season price reported and compare it to the highest average-season price reported by nominees during the middle period of the program, you get a difference of $54 per ton. “Here you see a wider range in average prices received by nominees, and the winners were determined based on a mixture of higher price and yield,” he said.

If you take the lowest average-season price reported and compare it to the highest average-season price reported by nominees during the late period of the program, which covers 2012 to 2016, you get a difference of $68 per ton. “The high-yielders during this time period were also most often the top marketers and received the highest prices. I think the message here is that the late-period nominees and winners are paying more attention to the markets as well as to maximizing production. In fact, over the last five years of the program, the actual overall winners received the highest price 84 percent of the time,” Lamb said.

Yields were most heavily influenced by irrigation and crop rotation in the Southeast, crop rotation in the Virginia-Carolinas region, and irrigation in the Southwest. “But there were several winners over the years who did not irrigate or had little irrigation percentage wise and who received timely rainfalls in the Southeast and Virginia-Carolina area.”

Water and Irrigation

From the PEA nominees’ information, Lamb pulled out one important sustainability benchmark: irrigation water use.

“The amount of water applied basically remained constant, which is to be somewhat expected when looking at three different regions (Upper Southeast, Lower Southeast and the Southwest) across several years. Year to year, it will vary but when breaking it down into three time periods over a 17-year horizon, it didn’t change much. But yields gained in recent years has become a big driver when thinking about sustainability,” he said.

PEA nominees in the early period used 3.471 gallons of irrigation to produce an ounce of peanuts. Nominees from the middle period used 2.9 gallons of irrigation to produce an ounce of peanuts. And nominees from the late period used 2.4 gallons of irrigation to produce an ounce of peanuts.

“This is considerably less gallons per ounce used than any other commercial nut production,” he said, “and shows that water-use efficiency continues to go in the right direction for peanut production.”

Over the last 17 years, crop protectants have come and gone along with modifications in the recommendations on how to use them, but a few things in that regard can be deduced from the PEA nominees:

  • They typically do not skimp on inputs to reach highest yields.
  • Based on follow-up interviews of the winners each year, most winners follow Extension recommendations for their area of production and varieties grown.
  • And winners typically say timeliness, such as timely crop inputs and timely rainfall and irrigation, is key to their operations.

“This is something we really can’t quantify from the numbers we have, but I think based on conversations with PEA winners and from reading their feature stories, that our Extension personnel in partnership with our chemical companies have done a highly effective job of developing and testing new products that have allowed peanut producers to better manage diseases and resistance and to better apply irrigation for many years, all of which I don’t think can be understated in its importance for producers to remain competitive, efficient and sustainable,” Lamb said.

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