U.S. peanuts farmers can expect a “paradigm shift” in peanut production within a few years when breeders begin taking advantage of a new tool to select for improved traits in new varieties.

Marker-assisted breeding will allow peanut breeders to identify desired characteristics as well as undesirable traits in segregated varieties and develop new cultivars that take advantage of natural resistance to diseases and other pests, improved shelf life, and increased productivity, among other desirable traits.

“Within five years we should have this tool available to breeders,” said Howard Valentine, executive director of the Peanut Foundation, the research arm of the U.S. peanut industry.

Valentine, in an interview with Farm Press during the Southern Peanut Growers Conference in Panama City Beach, Fla., said the process is underway and when completed will provide farmers new varieties that will improve efficiency by reducing pesticide costs, application costs and trips across the field. He used nematode control as an example.

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“Nematicides currently cost peanut farmers $25 million a year, just for the chemicals,” Valentine said. New varieties, created using marker-assisted breeding techniques, will eliminate most of that expense. “By planting naturally-resistant varieties, nematicide costs go away. Reduced cost of production means an improved bottom line for peanut farmers. Instead of five to seven trips across the field in a season, this technology will reduce the number to as few as two.

“We hope to give breeders tools they need to develop more efficient varieties. Some plant breeders have said that their job is a lot of art and a lot science. This will add another aspect of science that makes sure the breeding process is even more precise.”

When newly-crossed peanut plants come up, marker-assisted breeding techniques allow scientists simply to snip and test a bit of leaf and determine if the desired trait is in that plant or not. The technology will reduce time to release a new variety from about 15 years to about seven years.