For peanut farmers in the Virginia-Carolinas region, certain crop diseases have historically been a significant impediment to peanut yields and farm profits. With funding from the National Peanut Board (NPB), researchers at North Carolina State University (NCSU) began addressing this issue by developing disease resistant cultivars through a multi-year, multi-location breading program. The resulting varieties of Bailey, Sugg, Wynn and Sullivan Virginia-type seeds have doubled the yield for farmers in the region, and reduced input costs to treat chronic conditions.
“In 1999, the average peanut yield in North Carolina was 2,414 pounds per acre,” said Bob Sutter, executive director of the North Carolina Peanut Growers Association. “Fast forward to 2019 and the average yield was 4,400 pounds per acre. I am sure there is agreement on the peanut farm that it is because of the varieties developed by peanut breeder Dr. Tom Isleib; now Dr. Jeff Dunne and the NCSU peanut team.”
In 2001, NPB began funding NCSU’s breeding program. The goal was to develop varieties resistant to the four most common diseases affecting peanut production in the area: Sclerotinia blight, early leaf spot, Cylindrocladium black rot, and tomato spotted wilt virus. The program involved cross-breeding superior Virginia-type peanuts with sources that have resistance to those diseases, even from other peanut types including runners. The team used a winter seed nursery in Puerto Rico to expedite the breeding process, and crossed each generation until they achieved genetically stable families with improved disease resistance.
The varieties released as a result of this program have benefitted farmers in the region by requiring less fungicide and preventive applications to treat disease. These varieties are also high yielding, which means increased earnings potential for farmers.
According to Sutter:
In 2014, Bailey was planted on 84 percent of the Virginia acres in the V-C area, and North Carolina peanut producers produced on average 1,686 more pounds per acre than in 1999. At 25 cents per pound, that comes to an additional $421.50 per acre. Between 2014 and 2019, Sullivan increased plantings and accounted for 49 percent of certified acres, with Bailey decreasing to 32 percent. Sullivan is a high oleic variety and Bailey II will be high oleic. This trait, which will be in all Virginia varieties planted in the VC, increases shelf life considerably and improves the oil profile. NPB funding has made all this possible.
The high oleic Bailey II variety is expected to be available for planting in 2022, according to NCSU Extension Peanut Specialist Dr. David Jordan. He also indicated that as we look to the future, Bailey II, Emery and Sullivan will likely be the major Virginia market types in the region. Jordan said:
Through support by the National Peanut Board, Dr. Isleib set in place the pipeline for variety release candidates that will deliver greater yields with improved pest resistance above even the current cohort of varieties. Dr. Dunne is equally committed to continuing to help peanut growers in the region be competitive and efficient in their production of Virginia market type peanuts. Along with other research and extension projects funded by NPB associated with production, pest management and post-harvest issues, the peanut team at NC State delivers complete "production packages" to help farmers optimize yield of these varieties and ultimately financial return.