Peanut winners rise to top

The 2005 Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award winners literally “ran away” with their honors, primarily because each of them was an early adopter of innovative production practices, says Marshall Lamb, research leader for the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga., and adviser for the awards program.

“There was no contest. These growers came to the top of the nominations quickly and stayed there,” said Lamb at the Peanut Profitability Awards Presentation, held at the seventh annual Southern Peanut Growers Conference held recently in Panama City, Fla.

Recipients of this year's awards include Rex Carr, Levelland, Texas, Southwest Region; Robbie Umphlett, Gates, N.C., Gates, N.C., Virginia-Carolina Region; and Lee, Jim and Will Fenn of Fenn Farms, Clayton, Ala., Southeast Region.

“This award is not based on small plots — it is not a yield contest,” says Lamb. “Profitability is based on the entire peanut enterprise, including dryland, irrigation, or a combination of both. And we look at both fixed and variable costs.”

Variable costs, he says, are easy to identify, but fixed costs oftentimes prove to be more difficult. “We actually look at each piece of equipment on the farm and allocate it on a fixed-cost basis to the peanut enterprise. In the past, that has separated some of our winners from other nominees. Some growers are good managers over variable costs but not over fixed costs. But that wasn't the case with this year's honorees,” says Lamb.

Early adopters

One of the factors that distinguish the 2005 Peanut Profitability winners is that they all are early adopters of innovative production practices, he adds. “Rex Carr averaged 6,500 pounds of peanuts per acre. Robbie Umphlett also had excellent yields, and he was an early adopter and creator of harvesting equipment. The Fenns also had excellent yields this past year, and they had an asset that many growers need to utilize better — an excellent county Extension agent in Charlie Mason of Barbour County, Ala.”

Another important factor in achieving profitability is rotation, says Lamb. “Rotation, rotation, rotation — all of this year's winners had excellent crop rotation systems. They've looked at the data that researchers have generated about the benefits of rotation, and they've put it into practice on their farms,” he says.

In accepting his award, Carr said that his operation was “fairly new” to peanut production. “Water is our main issue, and more inputs are required for our peanuts than for our cotton. But we don't back down on inputs. We break our land, chop it up, and pack it back down. Planting Spanish peanuts gives us a good two weeks at harvest to get our crop out,” he said.

This past year was a good one for making peanut yields, he says. “Our average annual rainfall usually is about 19 inches, and we received about 40 inches this past year. But we still put on 18 inches of irrigation. Rotation has worked great for us, with cotton and wheat benefiting the peanuts. We can see the benefits of rotation throughout the year. We try to grow good seed peanuts so we can get a quality premium for our crop,” he says.

Lee Fenn of Fenn Farms says a farming operation is like a chain — if you have one bad link, it doesn't work very well. “This past year, at about planting time, I had a ruptured disk in my shoulder and couldn't lift my arm. But my sons Jim and Will put me in the tractor, and I planted the crop. Our county Extension agent Charlie Mason, who is second to none, also has been a tremendous help — he walks through our fields instead of driving by in a truck,” he says.

Rotation, irrigation

A bahiagrass rotation and center pivot irrigation have worked together to produce excellent peanut yields for Fenn Farms, says Lee. “We also use Irrigator Pro for scheduling when to water our peanuts, and that's the only way to go in our opinion,” he says.

Jim Fenn says the key to the success of the peanut industry is all segments working together. “There's a lot of exciting research being conducted, and there's a lot of talk about reducing input costs and growing a more profitable peanut. We all need to be aware of the cuts in research being made at out land grant universities, and we need to give these units as much support as possible so they can do the research and help us grow a more profitable crop,” he says.

Robbie Umphlett, the 2005 Peanut Profitability winner from the Virginia-Carolina Region, says a lack of water hasn't been a problem on his farm. “We're about 35 miles from the ocean, and I don't irrigate anything — I do everything I can to get rid of water,” he says.

Many growers in his area have stopped producing peanuts, says Umphlett, but the crop continues to be a good fit for his operation. “We grow all of our peanuts on dryland in 38-inch rows, and we rotate with cotton every four to five years. We also grow soybeans and wheat,” he says.

The Farm Press Peanut Profitability Awards were sponsored this year by the American Peanut Shellers Association, Echo Fungicide/Stalwart Herbicide, Folicur/Temik, John Deere Co., The Seam, the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, the Texas Peanut Producers Board, and U.S. Borax.

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