A new peanut variety recently approved by the Peanut Variety and Quality Evaluation (PVQE) Advisory Committee has the potential to fit niche markets for super extra large kernel Virginia type peanuts.

The PVQE is a multi-state research program at the Virginia Tech’s Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Suffolk, Va.

The new variety is yet to be named. It is currently VT 9506083-3. It started with a cross made in late 1990s by Terry Coffelt, a Virginia peanut breeder. Many selections were then made by former Virginia Tech plant breeders Walt Mozingo and Fred Shokes.

Maria Balota, an assistant professor and researcher at the Tidewater Station brought the new variety to the PVQE Advisory Committee for release and has conducted extensive field testing of the new peanut.

VT 9506083-3 produces a high percentage of super extra large kernels and has a distinctive low-growing, open-canopy growth pattern.

Windsor, Va., grower Jeffery Pope is currently growing the only seed for the new variety. If last year is a good indicator, he says the new variety will produce a high percentage of super extra large kernels for Virginia-Carolina growers.

His 2.5 acres of VT 9506083-3 peanuts will provide approximately 4,500 pounds of seed for the 2010 season.

Pope says the new variety has a more open canopy than other varieties that produce a high percentage of super extra large kernels. Hopefully, this growth pattern will help with disease control. “The new variety doesn’t have a good disease resistance package, but its open canopy will make it easier to treat for disease,” Pope says.

“We expect this variety will be grown only for specific niche markets that require super extra large kernels. It has the potential to provide more of these super extra large kernels than Gregory and other Virginia type varieties known for producing large kernels,” Pope says.

Gregory typically has 60 percent or so percent super extra large kernels. With VT 9506083-3, Pope says he hopes to top 70 percent super extra large kernels. Typically, if the extra large market pays 65 cents a pound for shelled peanut, the super extra large market would pay 25-30 cents a pound more. The only way to get these super extra large kernels is from a Virginia type peanut, Pope adds.

“I cook most of the 300 acres or so of the peanuts I grow and sell them through our small gourmet shop and online at Royal Oak Peanuts. Realistically, this is the type niche market that is ideal for VT 9506083-3 peanuts,” Pope says.

“When the farm bill changed, growing peanuts for these specialty markets was a way for peanut growers in Virginia to stay in business. We had such a large amount of infrastructure built for it, and it didn’t make any sense to just let it go away,” he says.

“I don’t see the peanut industry in Virginia going more toward specialty markets — there’s just not enough market demand. If we don’t see prices for our peanuts at $500 per ton or higher, I don’t think we will see peanut acreage increase.”

Even if prices get back to the $500-plus per ton range, long-time Virginia Crop Consultant Wendell Cooper says he doesn’t think peanut acreage will increase dramatically in the state. “So much of the peanut equipment in Virginia was sold, and unless growers can see four or five years in a row with good prices, they are not going to buy the equipment necessary to get back into large acreage production,” Cooper explains.

Pope says high peanut prices are driven by demand and demand is often driven by quality of peanuts. Without irrigation, he says, the quality of peanuts, especially larger Virginia type peanuts for the edible foods market, is difficult to attain year after year.

From a production standpoint, Pope says growing Gregory or the new variety is very similar to more commonly grown varieties. The big difference is in disease control.

“We have more options now than we used to have for disease control, especially sclerotinia blight and CBR. On these extra large kernel varieties, we are on a preventative schedule with Provost and Omega,” Pope says.

Cooper says peanuts infected with sclerotinia can be treated with Provost. The peanuts that used to die will get sick, but they don’t die. A grower will typically harvest half or two-thirds the amount of peanuts as the non-infected areas of the field. In the past, a grower would lose those infected peanuts, Cooper explains.

In addition to Gregory and his seed field for VT 9506083-3, Pope grew some Champs peanuts this year and says he will grow some Bailey variety peanuts next year. Bailey is a new variety from the North Carolina State peanut breeding program.

Bailey was released for seed in 2008 and little seed was available for the 2009 season. The new variety has a potential for high yields, high extra large kernel percentages, a distinctive bright hull and extremely good resistance to white mold and tomato spotted wilt virus.

Pope is a fourth generation peanut farmer who takes his craft seriously. Growing seed in particular can be challenging. For example CBR can cause discoloration of the hull. The hull discoloration would prevent peanuts from going into the seed pool.

Growing peanuts under irrigation, he shoots for 5,000 pounds per acre and any losses in seed peanuts is particularly damaging. Getting good varieties that will produce well is a critical part of growing Virginia type peanuts. That’s a primary reason Pope is active in the Peanut Variety Quality Evaluation program.

The PVQE program serves as a source of unbiased information on peanut lines developed by breeding programs at Clemson, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech universities.

Field trials comparing peanut breeding lines to commercial varieties are conducted in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. These studies yield timely results that ensure growers have acceptable varieties to plant and that useful information on those varieties is available to all segments of the peanut industry.

Pope notes that VT 9506083-3 is just one of several promising varieties being tested as part of the PVQE program. The best hope for increasing peanut production in Virginia comes from the development of new, highly productive varieties and new, highly efficacious pesticides and high tech application and harvesting equipment.

e-mail: rroberson@farmpress.com