I believe the future of peanut production lies in biotechnology,” says Marshall Lamb, director of the USDA/Agricultural Research Service Peanut Research Laboratory at Dawson, Ga.
“The industry is moving toward looking at molecular markers in peanuts and genes from other crops,” he said at the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s summer peanut commodity meeting.
“Corn, soybeans, and cotton already have genetically modified varieties. We need to identify alternative genes and molecular markers for peanuts, so one day we may give you a variety that you don’t have to spray for leaf spot or other diseases, or that will have other characteristics that allow you to produce higher-yielding, better quality peanuts.”
Other research projects, Lamb said, include a collaborative advanced breeding program, headed by Auburn University’s Charles Chen, with locations at Dawson, Ga., Headland and Fairhope, Ala., Poplarville, Miss., and in west Texas.
“Hopefully, this work will develop some lines that will be specific to Mississippi conditions and will benefit producers here,” he says.
“With support from the Federal-State Inspection Services, we’re also looking at X-ray technology for grading peanuts. Grading has been done the same way since the 1960s, and is a great asset for the industry in determining peanut quality but it’s very labor intensive. X-ray technology is very fast, and as accurate as the current method.
“This season, we’ll have X-ray machines on the road to obtain one more year of data, after which we hope to open it up to the industry to make a decision on adopting it. We know it can provide comparable accuracy, with greater speed, but it will be up to the industry whether to go forward with its adoption.
”Because of cost, Lamb says, “Every buying point won’t be able to afford X-ray systems. Some middle to upper size buying points have enough throughput that it will be cost effective, but that wouldn’t be the case for smaller buying points.
”Another study is evaluating a compound to terminate peanut flowering at about 100-110 days after planting as a means of reducing numbers of physiologically immature kernels that detract from grade and have off-flavor.
“The idea is that the peanuts already on the plant at that point are the ones we want to mature and harvest, and by eliminating immatures the plants can use that additional energy on peanuts that will be harvested.
”Researchers are also looking at use of a digital force gauge to evaluate peg strength to help determine maturity. The information has also been correlated to digging losses and soil types.
“It’s a very interesting project, and has promise in conjunction with other tools available,” Lamb said.“We’re also conducting drought tolerance and water use studies, and a scientist we’ve just hired has identified an enzyme that could fight aflatoxin development in peanuts. This is really advanced chemistry, which we feel has promise.
"We’re also looking at RNA interference as a means of breaking aflatoxin’s genetic chain — very powerful technology, and very exciting.”