The Georgia Peanut Tour visited the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga. This lab was established in 1965 for the purpose of improving farming practices. Since that time, scientists have studied a variety of factors involved in peanut production from better planting practices to better irrigation practices. Scientists have also researched ways to improve harvesting methods, storage methods, and the better use of environmental and financial resources.
Dr. Marshall Lamb, research leader and location coordinator at the National Peanut Research Laboratory, says, “We are one of the only USDA ARS labs that is solely dedicated to peanut research. Here at the lab we are developing technology for the end users.”
The NPRL has four different main projects that they work under. One of those is a cropping systems unit where we look at crop rotations and irrigation. Secondly, NPRL has an engineering unit that Dr. Chris Butts is the lead on where researchers look at ways to improve efficiency and quality in the post harvest sector. NPRL also focuses efforts on chemistry, genetics, and molecular biology where researchers are looking at natural defense mechanisms for peanuts but also ways to improve drought tolerance, and to come out with improved varieties for the industry.
NPRL will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this November. Through 50 years of research, scientists at the lab have created a tremendous amount of technology that is being used in the industry today. Originally, the focus at NPRL was on engineering and aflatoxins. However, over the years scientists have migrated to look at cropping systems type work and irrigation scheduling. Researchers at NPRL actually developed the Irrigator Pro scheduling system for managing the timing and amount of irrigation in peanuts. Researchers also developed Whole Farm which is a planning system that incorporates rotation data to help growers make better decisions on what to plant in the field for profit maximization.
Within the engineering unit at NPRL, Dr. Butts has done a lot of storage work both farmer stock storage and shelf stock storage. The research has actually changed the way the industry is looking at storing peanuts to maintain quality throughout storage. NPRL scientists are also looking at drought resistance projects with our cooperative breeding program with Auburn University. The program is showing a lot of promise with some of the cultivar lines that are showing drought resistance and will be available soon for farmers.
Dr. Renee Arias is working on ways to break the aflatoxin synthesis pathway and she has done an amazing amount of work on that area so that one day, we can hopefully eliminate aflatoxin contamination in peanuts. Her success has actually led to her receiving the Presidential Early Career Scientist of the Year Award a few years ago. Dr. Sobolev and Dr. Massa are working on looking at ways to increase phytoalexin production in peanuts which is a natural defense mechanism such that when a pathogen invades a peanut, it will be stronger and able to resist it better.