Pre-breeding gains lift peanut fortunes

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Portrait of Dr Graeme Wright

Dr Graeme Wright from the Peanut Company of Australia.

PHOTO: Clarisa Collis

A succession of short-season peanut varieties through the Australian peanut-breeding program is recasting the legume as a profitable sequencing option that allows growers to avoid late-season drought.

Leading the program, Peanut Company of Australia (PCA) manager Dr Graeme Wright says advances in peanut pre-breeding over the past 18 years have seen short-season varieties achieve about 90 per cent yield parity with their long-season counterparts. This yield lift is significant because in the past the benefit that early-maturing varieties provided in helping growers avoid “severe yield losses” due to drought late in the growing season also meant reduced overall pod yields compared with full-season varieties.

Now, however, short-season peanut varieties have shown they can sprint through the growing season, maturing about 30 days earlier, and still compete with both the yield and quality of traditional, long-season cultivars.

Speaking at the Tropical Agriculture Conference 2015 in Brisbane in November, Dr Wright said trials at five Queensland sites had shown the potential for a new short-season variety, to be released in 2018, to outperform full-season peanut lines.

In these long-term trials from 2008 to 2015, the new variety, Taabinga, had a pod yield potential of up to six tonnes per hectare, which is nearing the yield potential of “elite” full-season lines, he said.

To develop this high-yielding genetic combination, researchers drew on early-maturity germplasm from south Asia as part of the GRDC-funded breeding program run by PCA in partnership with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

But the genetic line of defence that such short-season germplasm conferred in assisting growers to sidestep late-season drought, known to occur in 60 per cent of years, initially posed a challenge because it resulted in low yields, low quality and low disease tolerance.

These limitations led researchers to introduce the long-season germplasm of Runner and Virginia peanut lines, which hail from the US, in addition to short-season germplasm from India.

The result was early-maturing peanut lines, such as Tingoora and Redvale, which have high pod yields, high kernel grades and quality, and high disease tolerance.

Crop Field of Peanuts

New varieties are helping peanuts to become a profitable crop sequencing option in Queensland.

PHOTO: Rebecca Thyer

Further highlighting this pre-breeding progress, genetic gains for foliar disease tolerance have increased 10-fold in the past eight years, reducing growers’ total expenditure on spraying (for leaf spot, leaf rust and net blotch) by $200/ha to $300/ha, Dr Wright said.

Meanwhile, quality and grade improvements have seen the new Taabinga variety yield large, flavoursome kernels with a large proportion of ‘Jumbo’ grade peanut kernels.

Dr Wright said that better kernel grades in the Taabinga variety should further increase gross returns from the crop, estimated at more than $3000/ha (for irrigated crops in central and coastal Queensland).

Compared with the first early-maturing Australian peanut variety, Walter, released in 2007, trials have shown Taabinga can return an extra $1000/ha.

Other short-season genetic gains that have implications for processing efficiency and market acceptance are a lower ratio of shell to peanut and high blanchability (cooking to remove kernel skin).

Dr Wright said that together, this suite of varietal improvements, particularly in the past 10 years, had lifted the overall competitiveness and profitability of Australian peanuts in domestic and international markets.

Australia produces about 35,000t of peanut pods per year, which is just 0.1 per cent of the global crop, estimated at 35,000 million tonnes, indicating the potential to increase Australia’s market share.

The varietal improvements have also extended the planting window for about 30 per cent of the Australian crop grown under dryland conditions in the Burnett region of Central Queensland.

“In dryland situations when opening rains do not arrive in time for the traditional sowing window from November to December, early-maturing varieties can be late-sown in January,” Dr Wright said.

“Also, the ability to plant the crop very early and harvest in early autumn opens up new opportunities to grow peanuts in sequence with sugarcane planted in autumn instead of spring.”

Dr Wright said fast-maturing varieties could also benefit the other 70 per cent of the national crop grown under irrigation in Queensland, northern New South Wales and the Northern Territory. 

“Where irrigation water is limited, early-maturing crops help increase water use efficiency, lifting the crop’s overall productivity and profitability in dry seasonal conditions.”

He said there is scope for PCA to commercialise its early-maturing varieties internationally because they are suited to peanut-growing areas around the world that are currently limited by full-season plant lines from the US.

More information:

Dr Graeme Wright,
07 4160 0734, 0419 735 036,
gwright@pca.com.au

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