Researchers working on disease-resistant peanuts

Argen Duncan

Work by a local peanut breeder to develop disease-resistant Valencia peanuts could benefit both farmers and consumers.

Naveen Puppala, peanut breeder at the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center at Clovis, is collaborating with a researcher in Uganda to cross New Mexico Valencia peanuts with Ugandan Spanish and Virginia peanuts to find a Valencia peanut that resists pod rot. With that disease, a combination of three organisms causes peanut shells to begin to decay in the field.

The new Valencia strains must not only resist disease but also produce as many nuts with the same sweet flavor as existing varieties.

Jimmie Shearer, CEO of peanut processor Sunland Inc., said disease-tolerant Valencias would mean lower prices and higher-quality products for customers.

“As a result of the Valencia peanut not having any disease resistance, the yields are less than other varieties,” Shearer said. “And also there are fewer farms that can plant the Valencia peanuts, because of disease already in the soils.”

With a disease-resistant Valencia peanut, he said, yields would go up, so Sunland would be able to pay farmers lower bonuses to grow the crop. Those savings would be passed on to customers.

Roosevelt County farmer Wayne Baker said peanut farmers usually plant peanuts on a field every fourth year to avoid having disease build up in the field. If they could grow the crop on the same field more often, he said, it would provide economic benefits.

“Otherwise you’re always looking for some new ground to grow peanuts, and that’s very difficult to do,” Baker said.

Puppala said New Mexico has no disease-tolerant peanut varieties, especially in Valencias. He said such a plant would benefit organic growers, who can’t use pesticides.

“They can really save the dollars and at the same time get high yields,” Puppala said.

Shearer said Sunland hasn’t had enough organic Valencias for the last five or six years, and a disease-tolerant peanut would help increase production.

Conventional peanut farmers would gain from disease-resistant Valencias as well, Puppala said, because of lower input costs from using less pesticide.

In July, Puppala visited Uganda, where another researcher was already working to cross Valencia peanuts there with other varieties to produce a plant that’s less susceptible to pod rot. He brought New Mexico Valencia material, and the other researcher has crossed it with Uganda varieties.

Puppala said two crossed varieties are showing promise as disease-tolerant, but they must be tested in the local environment. He hopes to get seeds from Uganda and plant them next May in a greenhouse and in fields.

If the new varieties show promise after four or five years of testing, farmers could try them. If they liked the results, Puppala said, the new Valencia strains would be released on the market.