A peanut breeding program operated jointly by the College of Agriculture’s Department of Agronomy and Soils and USDA’s National Peanut Research Lab in Dawson, Ga., has yielded AU-1101, a high-yielding, early- maturing, Virginia-type peanut and the first peanut variety ever released by Auburn.

But program leader Charles Chen says it won’t be the last.

“We currently have three promising advanced breeding lines, and they could be released as early as 2015,” says Chen, a former USDA Agricultural Research Service research geneticist who in early 2012 joined the College of Ag’s agronomy and soils department as an associate professor of peanut breeding and genetics.

Those varieties, Chen says, will be high-yielding runner-type peanuts that are adapted to the Southeast and bred for improved resistance to tomato spotted wilt virus, leafspot and other costly diseases and for reduced seed size. Those two characteristics could help farmers in Alabama, Georgia and Florida lower their seed and overall production costs.

While AU-1101 also promises high yields and improved drought tolerance, its other key trait — early maturity — will make it a strong option for West Texas peanut growers, once certified seeds become available to farmers in 2014, Chen says.

“AU-1101 is a large-kernelled Virginia-type peanut, and that is the type grown in West Texas, but the varieties that dominate the fields there now often aren’t mature enough to harvest and are still in the ground when the first frost hits,” Chen says. “That can reduce crop quality and yields.”

That the first peanut variety to be released by Auburn was developed for growers in West Texas might seem odd, except that the research behind AU-1101 began in the Lone Star State in the early 2000s under Ernest Harvey, one of the world’s leading peanut breeders.

Groundwork laid

In 2007, Harvey, then with the National Peanut Research Lab in Dawson, moved his peanut germplasm to Auburn and laid the groundwork for a cooperative breeding program between Auburn’s agronomy and soils department and the Dawson lab.

The Auburn-NPRL breeding program was established in April 2012, which is also when Chen joined the agronomy and soils faculty. He says the new program is a continuation of one he and others began at the national lab in 2007.

Joe Touchton, head of the agronomy and soils department — who, along with Chen, Harvey and Marshall Lamb, research chief at the National Peanut Research Lab, is credited with breeding AU-1101 — says the objectives of the program are to develop cultivars with desirable improved traits adapted to all U.S. peanut-producing regions and to enhance elite peanut germplasm through conventional and genomic approaches.

 

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The program is focusing on high yield, resistance to diseases, drought tolerance, early to medium maturity, seed characteristics and high oil and oleic acid content.

Chen says his research team planted 1,100 and 700 breeding lines, respectively, in Dawson and at the Alabama Ag Experiment Station’s Wiregrass Research and Extension Center in Headland to evaluate for individual plants with desirable traits.

“We also planted 38 advanced breeding lines on test plots at those two locations as well as in Lucedale, Miss., and at the Gulf Coast Research and Extension Center in Fairhope to evaluate for yield and other characteristics,” Chen says.

The advanced lines also will be tested over multiple years.

“The top 50 percent of lines remain in the test for next year and new ones are added,” Chen says. “The longer a line stays in the test, the better the chance it will be released as a new variety. I believe some of those 38 advanced breeding lines will become new varieties we can release.”

The West Texas breeding program also is ongoing. Chen says another 500 breeding lines and 30 advanced lines will be evaluated there this year.

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