Peanut farmers, most of whom also grow cotton, hope soon to see a quantum leap in yield potential similar to what they've experienced in their cotton fields.

Peanut breeders across the peanut belt — Virginia, south into north Florida and across to Texas and New Mexico, list increased yield as a top priority as they develop new varieties.

It's listed as a “non-negotiable trait,” in research work ongoing at the USDA National Peanut Lab in Dawson, Georgia.

“We're on our way to establishing a national breeding program for peanuts at the National Peanut Research laboratory,” says Marshall Lamb, research leader at the facility.

Lamb discussed the initiative recently during a variety update seminar at the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation annual conference in Panama City Beach, Florida.

High yield tops the list of what Lamb describes as non-negotiable traits. Other such traits include resistance to tomato spotted wilt virus, leaf spot, and limb rot. Maturity factors and seed traits, including size, splits and taste also make the list.

Lamb said research would identify “added value traits” such as high oil content, high oleate oil and low linolenic. Drought tolerance and calcium concentration are also added value traits.

“Our objective is to develop cultivars with improved non-negotiable traits and added value traits adapted to the Southeastern area, Texas and Virginia/Carolina,” Lamb said. “We will enhance elite peanut germplasm through conventional and genomic approaches.”

Hundreds of breeding lines are being tested across the peanut belt this year: 200 in Texas, 400 each in Headland and Fairhope, Ala., and 100 in Dawson, Ga.

Texas has two advanced line tests this year with 25 lines in each test. Two tests with 20 lines each are under way at Headland and Fairhope.

Dawson has one test and 20 lines in advanced line studies this year. South Carolina has one test with 20 lines.

The objective for Texas breeders is early maturity in a runner-type peanut. Alabama and Georgia tests seek high yield runner-type peanuts. South Carolina breeders are looking for better runner and Virginia-type peanuts.

Lamb says genetic research will develop a better understanding of the genetic principles that affect important agronomic traits in peanuts.

“We also explore the genetic potential from genes to genomes for peanut improvement,” he said. Studies will map the “quantitative trait loci (QTL) underlying desired traits in peanuts.”

Lamb said research would include classical genetic studies, pedigree analysis and genetic diversity studies, molecular genetics study and mapping the QTL.

Doug Smyth, with Kraft Foods/Planters, says flavor will continue to be a key trait for peanut manufacturers. He also cites texture, appearance, composition, uniformity, oil content, nutrition and roast consistency as important characteristics.

“If we get negative data from a region on roast variability, we will not source from that area,” he says.

Smyth agrees that enhanced yield must be a grower goal and says improvements may come from better varieties, production techniques and drying and storage practices.

Disease resistance also plays a role, he says. “Growers and researchers must make choices about where to put limited research dollars.”

Barry Tillman, University of Florida peanut breeder, says efforts the past five years have been aimed at improved yield and grade as well as disease and pest resistance. Key resistance targets include tomato spotted wilt virus, white mold, CBR, leafspot and nematodes.

“Most new materials are better than what we're growing now,” he says.

Roy Pittman, USDA-ARS, is working with wild peanut lines, looking for resistance and other characteristics that might cross into cultivated varieties.

“It will be a multi-disciplinary approach,” Pittman says. “It takes a lot of time to bring genes from a wild species into a cultivar breeding program. We hope to develop a variety that will not require spray applications.”

He says the program currently has 29 lines that could be two to four years from release; 618 lines that may be five to eight years out; 12 lines could be seven to nine years to release; and 155 lines from Bolivia could be available in four to seven years.