The Peanut Foundation has been approved by the American Peanut Council to initiate and coordinate peanut genomics research worldwide with the aim of reducing the cost of production and improving yields and quality.

The project — announced at the recent USA Peanut Congress held in Amelia Island, Fla. — will require $6 million over the next five years to complete.

The ultimate goal of the project is to take eight to 10 years off the normal time for variety development, a process that usually takes at least 15 years. Other goals are to enhance oil quality and essential nutrients and to improve resistance to pre-harvest aflatoxin.

“Basically, there are several approaches to breeding, and this will involve a more natural process,

Says Randy Griggs, executive director of the Alabama Peanut Producers Association, which is committed to helping with the project.

“It offers the opportunity to improve the quality of peanuts through various traits,” says Griggs. “The pressure continues today to grow more with less land and fewer inputs. The key to survival for the peanut industry is improved varieties. We’re acting as an industry, keeping these traits in the public sector where it’s available to all breeders.”

The peanut industry, he says, isn’t large enough for one company to make the investment needed for new variety development. “This project will aim to improve flavor and health benefits and other traits. In deciding to do this, it’s important not just to growers but also to shellers and manufacturers, says Griggs.

Several significant contributions are being made to the project by all segments of the industry, he adds. “A project such as this is especially important considering the declining funds in public research efforts. This will give us an edge in the breeding process.”

During this year’s USA Peanut Congress, Georgia Birdsong of Birdsong Peanuts unveiled a “white paper” describing the project. It’s generally recognized that peanuts are behind other crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton in genomic technology, though scientists and breeders have isolated peanut plants — both wild and cultivated species — that have resistance to diseases such as tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV), leaf spot, CBR and to nematodes.