Farmers who have been growing peanuts for several decades probably never imagined a day when they could plant varieties so genetically superior that 3,000 pounds per acre would be considered an average yield, or that they could make more than 3,000 pounds per acre in a drought-plagued year.
But all of these advantages that have been so painstakingly gained can quickly disappear without proper funding for research. Driving home this message was the purpose of a “town hall discussion” hosted by the Georgia Peanut Commission during the recent Georgia Peanut Farm Show.
Peanut research, or the possible lack thereof, should be a concern of everyone involved in the industry, says Don Koehler, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission.
“We’re staring something in the face that we can’t hide from and that we can’t forget,” says Koehler, who added that the cross for the most popular peanut variety now being planted — Georgia-06G — was made 12 to 15 years ago. “We can’t rest on our laurels and sit still.”
Peanut yields have been climbing for the past five years, but the evidence is compelling that this momentum will stop if the issue of research funding isn’t addressed quickly.
John Beasley, University of Georgia Extension peanut agronomist, says he and others involved in peanut research have been very fortunate to have received financial support from the Peanut Commission. “We depend on that support for research,” said Beasley. “One-hundred percent of the dollars I use to run my Extension and research programs in peanut agronomics comes from grower check-off dollars.”
Scott Angle, dean and director of the UGA College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, is candid when discussing the budget situation at hand. “We’ve had a tough couple or three years, and our funding is down 26 percent,” says Angle. “We’ve had to make some very difficult choices, and when people have left, their positions have remained vacant, with those funds going back into the Georgia state treasury.”
An example of this is that the University of Georgia currently doesn’t have a peanut research or Extension entomologist on staff. Other positions also have suffered, including that of a plant physiologist.
The National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga., has been hit hard by budget cuts as well. Its director, Marshall Lamb, says the lab has lost two research agronomists, a plant physiologist and a peanut geneticist and breeder, all in the past year alone.
Part of an education is learning the challenges that you face, says Koehler, and the peanut industry has to face full-on the challenge of research funding. He explains that thanks to research, it took only about 26 months to add a high-oleic trait to the Tifguard peanut variety. Without that research, it would have taken several more years.
“It’s like super-charging the breeding program. But to do that, we have to find funding for it, and I don’t know where it’s coming from. We had a referendum last year and tried to increase the Commission assessment by $1. For some reason, people starting thinking that money was going to promotion. If we don’t continue this research, where will be 10 years from now?”
The initial investment for advances in peanut production like the Georgia-06G variety and the Peanut Rx disease risk index was made 10 to 12 years ago, says Koehler, and more research dollars are needed to continue the progress.
“We’re going to have to do this ourselves, because we can’t depend on the government to do it right now,” he says.
Glenn Heard, a southwest Georgia peanut producer, says there’s a lot at stake in continuing and increasing peanut research funding.
“My years are limited, but we need to do this to take care of the next generation of farmers,” says Heard.