As American farmers and ranchers step up to help meet the global challenge of producing 70 percent more food by the year 2050 to meet nutrition needs of some 9 billion people, peanuts will play a role.
But to meet that demand, says USDA-ARS peanut breeder Kelly Chamberlin, Stillwater, Okla., the industry must build on the gains over the past half century — doubling average peanut yields.
“Can we continue to sustain the increase in yields?” Chamberlin asked peanut scientists and industry representatives at the recent American Peanut Research and Education Society (APRES) 50th annual meeting in Williamsburg, Va.
“Do we need to?” she added.
“Yeah, we do,” she said.
But achieving that goal will require an investment in time, money and training “a new crop of peanut breeders,” in advanced technology, including using molecular marker assisted breeding techniques, she says.
Chamberlin, in a presentation titled Not Your Grandma’s Goobers paid homage to the work peanut breeders accomplished over the past 50 years, but also spelled out what the industry needs to maintain that trend.
Technology not available in 1968 will move the mark higher.
Currently, breeders are working in10 public peanut breeding programs, university and USDA-ARS, across the U.S. Peanut Belt. Having breeding programs scattered across the peanut producing states, Chamberlin says, preserves the varietal diversity necessary to maintain production.
“Varieties that work in the Southeast do not work in the Southwest,” she explains. “We have diverse growing environments.”
Those facilities “have been very productive over the past 50 years,” she says, “with improved yield, maturity, pest management and grades. Breeding work may have averted a disaster from tomato spotted wilt virus in the Southeast and from Sclerotinia blight in the Southwest.”
Other disease resistance work has been instrumental in increased productivity. “Now, we’re looking at high oleic varieties as well as continued emphasis on disease resistance, yields, maturity and grades.”
The challenge of maintaining that trend includes a shrinking number of people involved in production agriculture, a growing population, but not an increase in available land. “U.S. acreage for agriculture has remained steady,” Chamberlin says. Also, the peanut production areas, though they have changed some over the past few decades, are not likely to change much, absent some climate or pest issue.
Technology, including molecular marker breeding, will be important aspects in maintaining the peanut yield tend.
“We are on the verge of being able to use marker-assisted selection in peanut breeding,” Chamberlin says. “We need to use precision breeding in peanuts,” technology already used in soybean breeding programs.
The advantages of marker assisted breeding include an abbreviated period to develop new varieties. Advantages, Chamberlin says, include:
- Enhanced efficiency in choosing parental material,
- Enhanced efficiency in screening breeding populations,
- Precise backcross breeding, and
- Efficient pyramiding of key traits.
Looks easy on paper, she says. It isn’t. The peanut genome has been sequenced, setting up the potential for marker assisted breeding. “We still see a lot of constraints to moving into molecular breeding.” Those include:
- Few available appropriate germplasm mapping populations and/or little phenotyping data,
- Few trait-associated markers,
- Capacity and skills of breeders due to lack of molecular background/training, and
- Cost prohibitive.
Chamberlin says the list of pre-requisites to get to marker assisted breeding is daunting and includes:
- Reliable trait-associated markers,
- Quick and simple DNA extraction method,
- High throughput marker detection,
- Genetic map/genome sequence,
- Inexpensive sampling, and
- Skilled breeders with equipped labs, or available service lab that offers inexpensive sampling.
She says technology will prove essential in meeting global food needs in just more than 30 years. “Precision agriculture, coupled with precision breeding, could allow the available food supply to keep up with the growing world population.”
Molecular breeding, she adds, will be instrumental in keeping peanut production moving toward those food goals.
“Future peanut breeders should and must be well-trained to molecular and traditional breeding methods.” She says, even with advanced technology, the breeder’s eye will be crucial in evaluating cultivars in the field.
“With marker assisted breeding, peanut breeding by design can become feasible,” Chamberlin says. That’s not something that was available back in your grandma’s time.