University of Florida researchers are releasing three new peanut varieties — two of them named for former university administrators — that they hope will give a market-dominant Georgia peanut some hearty competition.
The Florida-07 not only has strong resistance to a devastating disease that targets Southeastern peanut crops, but it's high in healthy oils, has a long shelf life and is a high-yield peanut, says peanut breeder Dan Gorbet, a professor with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“It's the first peanut ever produced by Florida that made 7,000 pounds an acre in tests in both Marianna and Gainesville,” he says. “We've never had the same peanut make 7,000 pounds an acre. We've had it happen here and there, but never twice in the same season at two sites.”
The York variety, named for former State University System Chancellor E.T. York, also has strong resistance to the disease, is high in healthy oils, and has a long shelf life, Gorbet says. And McCloud, a variety named for the late UF agronomy department chairman Darell McCloud, shares similar traits.
The three new varieties were unveiled at UF's Peanut Field Day in Marianna. They have enough differences in traits that matter to farmers, such as when they mature, that it made sense to release three varieties at once, Gorbet says.
UF breeders released high oleic acid peanuts — the healthy kind that lower cholesterol — in 1995 and 1997, Gorbet says. But those varieties couldn't stand up to tomato spotted wilt virus like the new ones.
“We're just now getting material put out that has good resistance to that virus,” he says.
The new varieties, created through traditional breeding, have been in the works about a decade, says Gorbet, a peanut breeder since 1970.
Compared with the many peanut varieties UF has issued over the years, these “stack up really well,” he says.
The Florunner, introduced in 1969, dominated the market for two decades before it grew susceptible to tomato spotted wilt virus, he said.
The breeders hope the new varieties will give the market-dominant Georgia Green peanut a run for its money because the new ones are higher in heart-healthy oils, he says.
The peanut breeders named the two varieties for the former UF administrators because of their work to advance agriculture, Gorbet says, and because they'd both focused on improving peanut production.
York, chancellor emeritus of Florida's public university system, was UF's provost for agriculture, vice-president for agricultural affairs, executive vice-president and interim president.
In 1964, he organized UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, bringing the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station and Florida Cooperative Extension Service all under one umbrella.
He has been an adviser to six U.S. presidents and traveled the globe to lend agricultural assistance in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
But lesser known is that York began his career as a North Carolina State University agronomist, and his first assignment: figuring out how to boost what were then stagnant peanut-crop yields.
He did so, and eventually penned a chapter for the textbook “The Peanut: The Unpredictable Legume.” And while the title seemed apt at the time, after exhaustive research on peanut production, he realized that farmers who followed a complete package of recommended techniques enjoyed much higher crop yields than those who didn't.
York says having a peanut named for him is “quite an honor,” though he says it's sure to earn him some ribbing.
“I'll be kidded a lot about it, but that's all right,” he says, before grinning and making a joke of his own. “It makes sense, since I've been working for peanuts for all these years.”