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June 26, 2013   Email to Friend 

Peanut Checkoff Helps Fund New Varieties
Katie Wendland

From Left: Alabama Peanut Producers Association Executive Director Randy Griggs; Superintendent of the Wiregrass Research and Extension Center Larry Wells; Auburn University and USDA Peanut Breeder Dr. Charles Chen; and Research Associate and Extension Agronomist Kris Balkcom examine crops at the Wiregrass Research Center near Headland.

Peanut farmers may soon have access to new drought-resistant varieties thanks to breeding research supported by the Alabama Peanut Producers Association (APPA) and the farmer-funded checkoff program.

Auburn University researcher Dr. Charles Chen is in advanced stages of variety development at the Wiregrass Research and Extension Center Experiment Station in Headland, Ala. The new variety promises to resist viruses, increase yields, mature earlier, have smaller seed size, be drought tolerant and have high oleic acid content. Oleic acid is beneficial to health and increases peanut shelf life.

Henry County Farmers Federation President Thomas Adams plans to be among the first to try the ‘AU-1101’ variety.

“Drought resistance is an issue that is hard to address, especially in small, irregular-shaped fields characteristic of the Wiregrass,” Adams said. “Manufacturers are becoming more interested in high oleic content. In the past, high oleic numbers and good yields didn’t go together, so the combination of the two will be great for farmers and manufacturers.”

Randy Griggs, executive director of APPA, said the peanut industry rescued Chen’s breeding program from the National Peanut Laboratory in Dawson, Ga. Decades of research were in jeopardy of being lost due to federal budget cuts. Peanut industry funding allowed Chen to continue his variety trials in Headland, Fairhope and Dawson.

“There will always be a need for talented individuals to develop new varieties,” Griggs said. “The continuation of USDA research allows farmers to know what to expect when they put seeds in the ground.”

Chen chose to work as a peanut breeder because the information collected is not owned by a specific company and can be shared with other breeders.

“When I was interviewing for the job at Auburn, they asked why I wanted to work for them,” Chen said. “I told them my goal was to serve the farmer, not to serve a company. I want to make peanut growing a profitable business.”

Kris Balkcom, research associate and Extension agronomist at the Wiregrass Research Center, said Chen’s work is helping farmers decide which varieties are best adapted to their soil types.

“Ten to 15 years ago, there were only three varieties to choose from,” Balkcom said. “Now, we have facilities that test 10 varieties at a time, so we can tell farmers which one will make them the most productive.”

For peanut farmers like Adams, knowing new varieties have been thoroughly field tested is reassuring.

“I appreciate the years of work dedicated to researching this new peanut variety,” Adams said. “The years of research make it more appealing to farmers than products that are rushed to the market.”

In addition to variety tests, the Alabama Peanut Producers Association is working to help the Wiregrass Research and Extension Center update peanut combining equipment. Better equipment will provide more accurate information to be collected and distributed to farmers looking for the most economic farming practices.


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