Peanut researchers focus on shelf life, drought tolerance

Freedom New Mexico: Argen Duncan National Peanut Board Chairman George Jeffcoat of Alabama, left, speaks as New Mexico Peanut Growers President Wayne Baker of Portales listens at the peanut growers annual meeting Wednesday at the Memorial Building. Jeffcoat said the board has spent $16 million on research in its existence, and research keeps the peanut industry in business.

Argen Duncan

Area peanut researchers are focusing on developing varieties with disease resistance, drought tolerance, early maturity and peanuts with a long shelf life.

Peanut breeder Naveen Puppala of the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center at Clovis and Soumailia Sanogo of NMSU’s Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science Department discussed their work at the annual New Mexico Peanut Growers meeting Tuesday at the Memorial Building in Portales.

Puppala said he focuses his breeding in four areas: High oleic traits, which increase peanut shelf life; resistance to diseases and fungus; the ability to mature early to compensate for the area’s short growing season; and drought tolerance.

“Everybody nowadays is more concerned about the water,” he said.

Puppala hopes to develop a variety of peanuts that will produce a crop with less water, even if the yield is lower.

For the oleic traits, Puppala has crossed Valencia and Virginia peanuts. The crossed plants have different characteristics, but he looks for peanuts with the Valencia signature red skin and sweet flavor.

“High oleic traits” refers to the ratio of two fatty acids in the peanuts.

Also, Puppala conducted field trials for several peanut varieties around the region. He said Valencia peanuts have genetic potential for drought resistance.

Sanogo has been working with Puppala to screen Valencia peanut varieties for resistance to pod rot, which affects shells, and sclerotinia blight, which attacks stems.

Pod rot is the main problem here, Sanogo said.

“And for me, the first part was to know the causal agent of pod rot,” he continued.

To do that, Sanogo looked for organisms that occurred often in samples. He has identified one main organism, but said the organisms present differ between fields.

Sanogo said sclerotinia blight is a new problem to New Mexico, although it has existed in the eastern U.S. He and a graduate student have studied the resistance of different peanut varieties exposed to the disease in a greenhouse, and he plans to test the best-performing varieties in the field this year.

Also at the meeting:

• New Mexico Peanut Growers President Wayne Baker read a letter from 30 agricultural groups to the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee asking that farm policy budget cuts be proportional with their effect on the budget.

The cost of farm policy accounts for less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the federal budget, according to the letter.

• American Farm Bureau Peanut Committee representative Dee Brown said Congress might extend the current Farm Bill for a year or two instead of creating a new one in 2012 if commodity prices remain high.

• Sunland CEO Jimmie Shearer said peanut acreage in this area is down.

“Cotton is hard to compete with at the price cotton is at,” he said.

Shearer also expects peanut seed prices to jump next year.