Quality Peanut Cultivars Support Sustainability and Save Southwest Peanut Farmers Thousands

The peanut breeding and pathology research team at USDA ARS Center for Peanut Improvement in Stillwater, Okla., has long-term goals to provide the peanut farmers in the southwestern region of the United States continuous seed improvements that have a balance of market desirability and strong resistance to disease.

“We’re committed to keeping our farmers sustainable now and in the years to come,” said Kelly Chamberlin, Research Leader and lead scientist for the Center for Peanut Improvement. Production research projects are partially funded by the National Peanut Board through the Oklahoma Peanut Commission.

The research focus in Oklahoma and the Southwest is on improved seed varieties that are high oleic and enhanced in quality, yield, and disease resistance in several types of peanuts: particularly Virginias, runners and Spanish. Nearly all of Oklahoma’s peanut crops are irrigated, so they thrive even in times of drought.

Beginning in the 1990s, Chamberlin said farmers in the Southwest wanted to plant high oleic peanuts to appeal to manufacturers desiring the qualities of high oleic peanuts. “Now, we’re 100 percent high oleic here and we’re not planning to develop anything that is not high oleic. But we must have high oleics with a high yield and good resistance to disease.”

Enter the Spanish Peanut, Olé

In 2015, OLé was the first high-oleic Spanish-type peanut released commercially by USDA ARS and the

Researchers Kelly Chamberlin and John Damicone

Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station (OAES) specifically developed for production in the southwestern United States.  “OLé has been in high demand in the Southwest since it was released.  Manufacturers really like it because it is high-oleic and produces a uniform size. As a Spanish-type peanut it fits nicely into several candies on the market.”

Since the release of OLé, Chamberlin and the Oklahoma research team have employed up-to-date genotyping, phenotyping, and marker-assisted selection to develop and release better and better cultivars with the most current traits. Each release emphasized higher yield, high-oleic traits, disease-resistance, and/or other superior traits.

Around 45 percent of the peanut acres in Oklahoma and Texas produce Virginia-type peanuts. For the past two decades, most farmers have planted Jupiter, a reliable Virginia-type peanut that is not high-oleic and had become increasingly susceptible to Sclerotinia blight and pod rot.

First High-Oleic Virginia Peanut

VENUS was the first high-oleic Virginia-type peanut developed for optimal performance in the Southwest and was released cooperatively by the USDA-ARS and the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station (OAES) in 2015. The purpose for releasing VENUS was to provide peanut producers the first high-oleic Virginia-type cultivar developed specifically for the Southwestern U.S. with acceptable yield, enhanced grade and enhanced disease resistance when compared to Jupiter. Production of VENUS instead of Jupiter helped lower input costs while increasing profits for peanut farmers in Oklahoma and Texas.

New High-Oleic Runner: Lariat

Seeking further improvement, Oklahoma researchers developed Lariat, a cross between Red River Runner and an accession from the U.S. germplasm collection identified as highly resistant to Sclerotinia blight. As a high-oleic runner-type peanut, Lariat showed an outstanding grade, high yield, oil quality and disease resistance. When compared to Red River Runner over four years, Lariat showed very little difference when it came to yield and grade.

“Years ago, Sclerotinia blight became a hard-to-control problem for our farmers. We released Lariat, and it demonstrated excellent resistance to Sclerotinia blight and pod rot,” said Chamberlin. “Farmers could grow Lariat without spraying for Sclerotinia blight and still make an excellent crop. We don’t know if that resistance will hold forever, but for now Lariat is the best choice if producing peanuts under the pressure of Sclerotinia blight.”

Lariat replaces an earlier cultivar, Red River Runner, which was released cooperatively between USDA ARS, OAES, and Texas A&M University. Although Red River Runner was profitable due to its superior grade and yield, the cultivar routinely displayed delayed germination. Lariat offers producers an improved replacement with high yield and grade, but no delayed seed germination and an improved fungal disease package that requires no fungicide application.

“Peanut producers who choose Lariat over Red River Runner save $150-200 per acre in disease management costs,” said Chamberlin. 

Contender: Better Disease-Fighter

There was still a need to fight disease problems with other types of peanuts, like Virginias, so the Oklahoma team developed and released Contender, the newest high-oleic Virginia peanut developed for planting in the southwest.

“We have enough seed this year (2020) to go into commercial production and should have more next year,” said Chamberlin. “We’re constantly trying to improve upon disease resistance. Pod Rot is a big problem here on Virginia-type peanuts. Contender has some good resistance to that disease, too.”

Comparing Contender to VENUS, Chamberlin said, “VENUS has good resistance to both disease, but does not have as large of a pod as manufacturers prefer. We keep trying to increase that pod size, coupled with disease resistance. Contender has improved pod-size distribution when compared to VENUS.”

Another disease problem the Oklahoma team is starting to tackle is late leaf spot. “Other growing regions have early leaf spot, but here in the southwest, we see more late leaf spot,” said Chamberlin. “We’re beginning to incorporate lines with really good leaf spot resistance into our varieties here to give us better protection against leaf spot. We’re probably five years away from being able to release anything with enhanced resistance to late leaf spot.”

Meanwhile, the production of Contender will allow producers in the Southwestern U.S. to regain much of the Virginia-type peanut export market that had been lost due to a reduction in pod and seed size of available high oleic Virginia-type cultivars. Due to its improved market quality, Contender is expected to increase producer profit by $3-5,000 per year.

Environmental changes, new disease pressures and weather patterns are continually upon the farmers in every peanut-growing region of the U.S., including the Southwest. Researchers and breeders like the team at USDA ARS Center for Peanut Improvement are watchful and creative as they meet the challenges each year.

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