Breeding, Genetics, and Genomics of Peanuts


David Bertioli is a professor in the University of Georgia Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics program. He works closely with Soraya Bertioli in what is known as the wild peanut lab. Now to explain what the wild peanut lab is, let me take you back five or ten thousand years to South America when the first inhabitants were growing wild peanuts. That area is now known as Argentina and Bolivia.

Wild peanuts are very small, and they spread on the ground, but at the time that was a nutritious crop for them. The inhabitants cultivated peanuts moving up and down during their migrations on the Eastern side of the Andes and they ended up cultivating two species together, which don’t normally grow together. In this way they encourage the formation of a hybrid and that hybrid between two species gave rise to all of the peanuts in the world. The fact that it’s a hybrid means that peanut has got that vigor. The peanut got that productivity that we love but the fact that it was just one hybrid probably that gave rise to all of the peanuts in the world. That means that it has phenomenally narrow genetics.

That’s the reason for peanuts being very susceptible to pests and diseases and being expensive to grow. It’s one of the most expensive row crops to grow because it needs protection. So, what we’re doing in the wild peanut lab is we are going back to the wild species to bring in especially pest and disease resistances.

What we do is we take two different species which are similar to the original ones but not the same ones. We hybridize them together in a process that mimics the original origin of peanut and then we hybridize those to peanut itself. We hybridize again and we do genetics and then use the information from the peanut genome project and at the end of our process which takes about 10 years we get lineages like this. Some of the peanuts produced in Georgia crossed with wild genetics brings in very strong resistance against things like leaf spot, rust fungus, tomato spotted wilt virus and nematode.

View the 2023 Georgia Peanut Photo Album.

Aflatoxin Issues in Peanuts

Jake Fountain, mycotoxin and post-harvest pathogen specialist at the University of Georgia, provided an update on his research program during the 2023 Georgia Peanut Tour. Fountain’s research program primarily focuses on aflatoxin issues in peanuts and also other crops overall.

His lab is working on a few different research directions to try to mitigate aflatoxin issues including host plant resistance. Through the research, he is looking at bringing genetics from wild species of peanuts to new breeding lines in order to improve the resistance of peanuts to aflatoxin issues.

The second area we work on is detection for aflatoxins. Fountain works closely in collaboration with other UGA and USDA research scientists to develop technology to do hot spot prediction using drone technology equipped with fancy cameras to try to find spots in the field that are at higher risk for aflatoxin issues. He is also working closely with this group to try to look at the soil microbiology associated with those hot spots and see if they are at a greater risk for having isolates of the aspergillus fungus that make more amounts of aflatoxins.

The third focus area is looking at the pathogens’ biology. There’s still a lot of questions about why this fungus produces aflatoxin in the first place. What controls how much it makes and how it actually gets into peanuts.

Fountain is looking at doing a survey of aspergillus fungus associated with peanuts here in the Southeast. Primarily, here in southern Georgia in collaboration with Premium Peanut and other UGA scientists and also Hudson Alpha in Huntsville, Alabama, Fountain is looking at doing genome sequencing and understanding the genetics of this fungus.

Finally, we’re looking at biotechnology right now. GMO peanuts are not something that the peanut industry here in the U.S is really exploring using due to export concerns and public perceptions. The technology that’s used in GMOs can be very useful for aflatoxin prevention so what Fountain is trying to do now is to develop a kind of biotech pesticide that uses the same type of technology that would go into GMO but can be applied as a spray to non-GMO peanuts and hopefully provide the same level of effect to reducing aflatoxins.

“Overall, this year we’re looking at a pretty good crop with reduced aflatoxin and risk,” Fountain says. “However, vigilance is always the key and we’re hoping that our research programs help fill in some gaps and help with the mitigation of aflatoxin for our growers here in the state.”

View the 2023 Georgia Peanut Photo Album.

What is a peanut entomologist?

Mark Abney, peanut entomologist at the University of Georgia, provided an overview of his work during the 2023 Georgia Peanut Tour. He receives the question many times from people asking, what does the peanut entomologist at University of Georgia do?

According to Abney, peanuts are not really any different than other agricultural commodities and the focus now is on sustainability.

“In order to be sustainable, you have to be profitable and insects threaten profitability right,” Abney says. “Insects in the field are going to eat the crop and they are either eating the leaves and we need leaves to make peanuts or they are eating the peanuts.”

At the end of the day, insects can cost growers money. Even though, Abney can find insects in almost every field in Georgia, the insects do not always need to be controlled. Some of the insects are pests while some of the insects are beneficial. In some cases, the insects present may be a pest but the population in the field may not warrant an insecticide application.

For growers, trying to manage insects can be troublesome. That is where Abney sees his role as the peanut entomologist in helping growers. Abney conducts research on the insects that occur in peanuts, develops thresholds and evaluates chemistry of products for insect management.

When Abney evaluates chemistry, he looks at the insecticides that are available, what works best, what is most economical to put on the peanut crop to manage the insect pests that farmers have so they can preserve yield and preserve profitability.

According to Abney, it is important for individuals to know that farmers don’t kill insects for fun. Farmers work to manage insects in their field and should use insecticides in crops when the insect pest is going to cause yield loss.

“If they’re going to cause yield loss that costs more than what it costs to kill them, then that’s the only time we should manage insect pests in the crop,” Abney says.

Every year is different in terms of insect and disease pressure and 2023 is no different. This production year started out cool and with thrips pressure and tomato spotted wilt virus. In August, farmers had caterpillars including velvet bean caterpillars come in the last few weeks of the growing season.

Abney’s research and extension program focuses on determining what the best products are, what the best tools are and what the best practices are to reduce the risk of insect injury and then control those insects or manage those insects when they do occur in the field.

So, when it gets right down to it the goal of my research and extension program is to understand the insect pests that are present and learn how to best manage them,” Abney says. “Then what can we do to manage them when they occur and then get that information out to our growers so that they can implement those practices on their farm and ultimately preserve yield and profitability.”

View the 2023 Georgia Peanut Photo Album.

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus on Peanuts

Albert Culbreath, research plant pathologist at the University of Georgia, started his career in Tifton back in 1989. Culbreath came to the university to work on foliar diseases of peanuts, but tomato spotted wilt virus made an appearance and he has been working on that virus ever since his arrival to Tifton.

We’ve made a lot of progress.

The virus progressed extremely rapidly in those first few years by the mid-90s.

“TSWV was a significant part of crop losses, and the virus came close to putting us out of peanut production,” Culbreath says. “I’m proud to be part of an integrated management research extension team that addressed the problem.”

Through the years, the team of researchers working on TSWV has made a lot of strides in managing the virus. An integrated approach has been an excellent example of that, Culbreath says.

“No production practice actually provides adequate control of the disease in the field, but we’ve put together multiple factors that all work together so we can have a huge impact on managing TSWV,” Culbreath says.

Culbreath continues to work on spotted wilt and is proud of the progress the research team has made through the year.

“We’re living with the virus now, but it is still an extremely important factor in our peanut production,” Culbreath says. “Our losses to spotted wilt have been up the last couple of years.”

Culbreath’s research program is geared towards helping breeders develop better and better varieties and better resistance to spotted wilt so that it will hold up to it. Currently there are no varieties with full immunity to the virus.

Through Culbreath’s integrated research program, he helps with mapping and marker development that will hopefully help the next generation of breeders and plant pathologists. His research focus continues to compare advanced breeding lines from multiple breeding programs and the lines resistance to spotted wilt.

Culbreath also compares the available peanut varieties response to Thimet insecticide since spotted wilt is vectored by thrips. Thimet is the only insecticide available that controls thrips and gives some suppression of spotted wilt.

According to Culbreath, the research is a team effort which includes researchers and extension professionals across multiple disciplines.

The virus is complicated but together the team of researchers are making progress.

“When you have a virus that’s complicated like spotted wilt, then it takes a team approach,” Culbreath says. “We are continuing to make progress, but it seems like the virus stays two steps ahead of us sometimes.”

There are some promising lines in the breeding program that has resistance to spotted wilt but for now the variety, Georgia-12Y is the best line with resistance to spotted wilt. In years with heavy spotted wilt pressure, Culbreath says growers need to be mindful of the optimum planning date, higher seeding rates and the insecticide Thimet.

“We are continuing our work on spotted wilt by putting together as many factors as possible that are available now and looking for new and better resistance in the breeding lines that we have and what will be coming down the pipe,” Culbreath says. “So, hopefully we can eventually get to where spotted wilt is not a factor in peanut production, but for the moment, I’m afraid it’s still a mighty strong enemy.”

View the 2023 Georgia Peanut Photo Album.

Effects of Nematodes on Peanuts

University of Georgia plant pathologist Tim Brenneman studies peanut diseases and a range of pests that attack peanuts. During the 2023 Georgia Peanut Tour visit to the University of Georgia Attapulgus Research and Education Center, Brenneman discussed nematodes and the impact this pest has on peanuts.

“Nematodes are a very serious problem with peanuts,” Brenneman says. “They are round worms that live in the soil and feed on the roots and the pods of peanuts.”

Today, researchers are phenotyping new varieties that have a great level of resistance to nematodes. According to Brenneman, that’s a huge advancement because some of the most expensive chemicals put on peanuts are geared to manage nematodes.

“Management of nematodes is a huge cost of production, so these new varieties with extremely high levels of resistance are beneficial to farmers since they require no chemical inputs,” Brenneman says.

Brenneman is working with the peanut breeders to phenotype. Through phenotyping, Brenneman and the breeders work to characterize the new lines and show how resistant they really are in the field as well as making sure they have the high yield potential that growers need for new commercial peanut varieties.

“It’s very exciting to see the big differences out here in the field among current peanut varieties and some of the new nematode resistant varieties. Some of the new varieties will be available within the next couple of years that should help our industry and growers produce high yields at a lower cost,” Brenneman says. “That’s what we need to stay competitive in the world peanut market.”


View the 2023 Georgia Peanut Photo Album.

2023 Georgia Peanut Crop Update

During the 2023 Georgia Peanut Tour, Scott Monfort, University of Georgia Extension peanut agronomist, provided an update on the peanut crop and some of the some of the issues growers have dealt with throughout the season.

According to Monfort, growers had a bumpy start to this season.

“We had rough weather early and when I say rough it was very cool and very wet to begin with and then it stayed cool throughout June,” Monfort says. “So, it took us a little while to get this crop up and going, but the crop did finally get there. The only issue now is that farmers are about two weeks late.”

The peanut crop did catch up a little bit with the hot weather in July and August. However, according to Monfort, peanuts need more hot weather. During the first part to the middle part of September, farmers begin their harvest.

“This is our time to figure out how well we did this year and I’m afraid to say that we are in a situation where it’s not a perfect crop,” Monfort says. “We’ve had rough weather like I mentioned earlier, real hot through the middle part of this summer and we did dry out in some places, especially in the western part of the state. Some areas have gone three to four or five weeks in some places without any rain.”

The recent Hurricane Idalia did help some of the acres from the central part of the state through the eastern part, but it did not help the farmers in the western part of the state. The dry land crop is still suffering some in parts of Georgia.

“We’re going to have to harvest some of those a little bit earlier,” Monfort says. “The yield’s going to be a little bit lower quality, but I think at this point if we can capture the crop that’s on it, the quality should be okay.”

According to Monfort, the irrigated crop at this point is on par.

“The irrigated crop is doing good,” Monfort says. “It looks like we still have a pretty good high yield potential as long as we continue doing what we can by taking care of all the pest problems and irrigating when needed.”

Monfort encourages growers to wait until their peanuts are as mature as possible to help with their overall yield and quality.

“We’re going to have some areas of the state that we’ve got to worry about, but I think for growers throughout the state, we’ve made it through a tough year, and we’ve been able to still make a crop,” Monfort says. “I think we’ll end the year at least on a good note as far as I can tell, if growers follow through and finish the things that we need to.”

View the 2023 Georgia Peanut Photo Album.

UGA Peanut Breeding Update

Nino Brown, University of Georgia peanut breeder provided an update to 2023 Georgia Peanut Tour attendees on the peanut breeding program at the university. Brown works closely with Bill Branch, peanut breeder at the University of Georgia, as they work to develop new cultivars or varieties of peanuts for growers in Georgia and beyond.

“We look to improve yield and improve profitability,” Brown says. “We do a lot of work improving disease resistance, insect resistance and improving shelling quality characteristics that are important for the growers, the shellers, manufacturers and ultimately the consumer.”

So, Brown and Branch make crosses between cultivars that have a number of good characteristics and then they evaluate the progenies that come out of those crosses. This process takes several years.

“It takes approximately 10 to 12 years from the time we make an initial cross-pollination to the time we have something that is ready for a variety release and then ready to sell to growers,” Brown says.

The breeding lines are tested all over the state of Georgia at research farms in Midville, Plains, Attapulgus and Tifton. The new peanut lines are also tested at research and education centers or research farms throughout the peanut growing region where the cultivar could be grown.

“We do that so whenever we release a cultivar to growers, we know that it’s going to perform well in a variety of growing situations and in a number of growing environments that the cultivar may encounter in in South Georgia,” Brown says.

View the 2023 Georgia Peanut Photo Album.

Peanuuut, Peanut Butter…& Jelly!

While at LMC Manufacturing, tour attendees had an opportunity to sample grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made by Tyron Spearman, executive director of the National Peanut Buying Points Association.

Tyron Spearman (left) and Wesley Powell grill peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the tour attendees.

Each year, Spearman joins attendees on the tour and gives them a taste of America’s favorite sandwich with a unique twist. Spearman says the key to a great grilled PB&J is to mix your peanut butter and jelly together first before spreading it on the bread. After that, you can butter each side of the sandwich and grill it just like you would a grilled cheese. Be sure to try it at home!

Below is a throwback video from the 2016 tour, where Spearman describes the simple process of making your own grilled PB&J.

View the 2023 Georgia Peanut Tour Photo Album

Still Going Strong After 80 Years

Lewis Carter, Jr. welcomes Georgia Peanut Tour attendees to LMC Manufacturing in Donalsonville, Georgia.

After leaving SunSouth, tour attendees headed over to LMC Manufacturing. With a history of more than 80 years, LMC has been a leader in producing world class machinery. The company offers solutions tailored to meet the needs of a specific industry and/or company. From gravity separation machines and destoners to vibratory conveyors, LMC produces custom-built industrial separation equipment for the customer’s unique processing requirements.

Throughout the years, the Carter family has built equipment ranging from peanut shellers for Georgia farmers to bow hooks for the Navy during World War II. At the root of it all remains the consistent mechanical innovations helping numerous industries operate smarter and more efficiently.

LMC’s focus on process application separates it from other manufacturers. This focus drives them to understand the process and design applications with specific purposes. LMC equipment is custom-built for the required process whether for a food product or recyclable materials and is adaptable for a variety of commodities.

LMC is committed to delivering peanut processing systems and equipment to help peanut processors achieve maximum capacity and efficiency for their dollar. Originating from the rural peanut farms of South Georgia, LMC has become the world leader in peanut shellers and equipment for the peanut shelling process. LMC equipment is responsible for shelling 90 percent of the commercial peanut market. These machines are designed specifically to maximize processing speed along with separation effectiveness.

What makes LMC unique is the staff of peanut specialists that can design, build, deliver and install an entire peanut processing operation. From cleaning to separating, back to cleaning and shelling, LMC equipment can go through the entire process customized to the customer’s specifications. Also, by removing the lower-grade peanut prior to shelling, the end-produce will be of the best quality, yielding the ultimate monetary profit.

Below are some of the types of peanut processing systems LMC can design and build from the ground up. To learn about each, click here.

  • Peanut Shellers
  • Sizing Shakers
  • Destoners
  • Aspirators
  • Peanut Blanchers
  • Vibratory Conveyors
  • Gravity Separators
  • Easy Dump Elevators
  • Air Gap Cleaners

With LMC’s large range of peanut customers, they have made contacts all across the globe including: South America, Australia, the Middle East, Europe and the Western United States including California.

Click the video below to learn more about LMC and the Lewis Carter Family.

View the 2023 Georgia Peanut Tour Photo Album


The Value in a Peanut Crop

Georgia Peanut Tour attendees began Thursday morning at SunSouth in Donalsonville, Georgia. SunSouth, LLC formed in June 2006. Joining forces with several local tractor cornerstones, SunSouth began with 11 stores, and by 2016 grew to 21 locations in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. The SunSouth team prides itself on integrity, quality, commitment and innovation.

SunSouth representative, Russ Worsley, shows tour attendees a KMC digger.

During the stop, SunSouth employees discussed the different types of equipment farmers use to produce a crop of peanuts and the investment it requires. From John Deere tractors to peanut planting and harvesting equipment, as well as equipment to spray the crop when necessary, SunSouth offered tour attendees a chance to understand the cost associated with farming.

Tour attendees learn about the investment of an Amadas combine.

John Deere tractors are on display for tour attendees.











Below is a list of some of the equipment discussed and the estimated cost associated with each:

To put it into perspective, a farmer’s peanut yield would have to be near 4,500lbs per acre to breakeven at $535/ton.

View the 2023 Georgia Peanut Tour Photo Album