The project will better enable peanut plant breeders to use marker-assistive selective breeding to develop new varieties that have resistance to most if not all of these diseases.

At the recent International Peanut Genome Initiative meeting, 79 institutions in 20 countries helped to develop the strategic plan for the project, which begins. The group agreed that the best institution for sequencing and assembling the peanut genome was BGI in Beijing, China. A contract has been signed for a two-phase project for $2.8 million.  

Companies involved in the project that have already committed to the program include MARS, $1,290,000; J. M. Smuckers, $200,000; and Birdsong Peanuts, $200,000. Several Chinese agricultural academies have committed $480,000. 

Already, $2.2 million of the $6 million has been pledged or secured. A committee has been appointed to organize a drive to secure commitments for the six components of the project.

According to the white paper, one of the biggest challenges for the U.S. peanut industry is the ability to compete with other crops for production. “Most growers today are focused naturally on dollar value per acre and peanuts have often been uncompetitive in regards to yield and production costs as compared to crops such as cotton and corn. 

“As an industry, the best way to compete is to enhance our peanut varieties for disease resistance and yield potential. This can best be done through genomics. We have to maximize yield while minimizing inputs in order to sustain and compete with other crops.

“The industry is committed to peanut consumption growth through marketing efforts to promote the nutritional aspects of peanuts. As we grow consumption, we must grow our yield potential to sustain our industry. Genomics is the key to a sustainable future for peanuts.”

On March 24, 2004, the American Peanut Council’s Board of Directors authorized The Peanut Foundation to organize and coordinate peanut genomic research with the goals of reducing the cost of production and improving yields and quality. It was apparent that the need for this work was urgent.

“Our peanut industry was at least six to 10 years behind the technology for improved variety development compared to corn, cotton, soybeans and other major competing crops. As a result, U.S. peanut production was becoming less competitive with these other major crops,” according to the initiative.

To become more competitive, the Peanut Foundation challenged scientists to engage in peanut research to:

1.) Take 8 to 10 years off the normal time for variety development;

2.) Develop varieties with multiple resistances to TSWV, nematodes, leaf spot, sclerotina, CBR and other diseases;

3.) Increase peanut yielding ability;

4.) Achieve drought tolerance, and improve efficiency of water use to preserve natural resources;

5.) Develop early maturing varieties to avoid off-flavors, reduce growing time and production costs;

6.) Enhance oil quality (i.e. high oleic acid) and essential nutrients (i.e. increased folate);

7.) Enhance resistance to pre-harvest aflatoxin.