Valencia Peanut Breeding for High Yield, Early Maturity, and Resistance to Fungal Diseases, and Good Quality
New Mexico State University
Since 1989, and the collapse of the large-scale system, Bulgarian agriculture has been undergoing contradictory reforms. The result has been a dramatic drop in agricultural production and loss of most of the productive capital (e.g., machinery, cattle, technical knowledge, and human resources). Agriculture under socialism was far more significant than either macro-level economic statistics or socialist political ideology would suggest. The mechanization of agriculture and the expansion of nonagricultural employment opportunities were also important socialist achievements. The transition from planned to market economy did not go well in Bulgaria. Compared to Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), macroeconomic performance has been worse and production has dropped significantly, resulting in increased inflation. The goal of this study is to compare production of Bulgaria’s peanut crop with other major crops grown in the area. Marketability and the possibility of consolidation will be examined. Specific questions will be addressed. Where does the crop stand in terms of economic scale? How does it relate to other competitors with respect to land, labor, and capital? Can this crop have a future in the industry without free market protection? How does the peanut yield look at present? Can peanuts compete with other crops and can the taste and quality compare with the European market? Bulgarian peanuts are resistant to fusarium disease, but the yield is low. The U.S. Valencia peanut not only has a high yield, but also has better taste and a shorter growing season. Breeding of disease-resistant germplasm from Bulgaria with the U.S. Valencia peanut can increase the peanut yield. To answer the listed questions, we need to first understand the socioeconomic aspects of peanuts in Bulgaria. This study proposes the following: 1. The constraints of crop production will be identified; (2) A comprehensive questionnaire will be developed, covering all development, infrastructure, and socioeconomic problems; (3) Answers will be researched and presented for all the questions. Proposed questions at this time include the following: (1) What are the average yields in the peanut growing area; (2) Can peanuts be a potential crop to compete internationally and locally; (3) Are the present varieties disease resistant; (4) What does a farmer spend on seed, fungicides, insecticides, and harvesting; (5) What machinery does he require; (6) Is the crop grown on marginal land or productive soil; (7) What are the limitations with respect to water, varieties, storage, and marketing; (8) How long does the crop take to mature; (9) What is the present rotation followed by the farmers; (10) Compared to the existing crops, can farmers make a substantial profit by growing peanuts; (11) What will be the future market of peanuts; (12) With the enlargement of the European Union (EU) to include Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC), will it be realistic that growing peanuts with high yield and better taste can create a market for exporting peanuts from Bulgaria to the European market. Earlier research collaboration of Bulgaria with North Carolina State University (NCS Project #20) has shown that the Virginia peanut has a high genetic potential for productivity. The lines introduced were resistant to leaf spots but susceptible to fusarium diseases. The main problem encountered was that the crop could not mature because of the shorter Bulgarian growing season (120 to 130 days). According to EEP recommendations, the research work of the project could continue if it were directed to New Mexico State University (NMSU) where Valencia peanuts are grown with shorter growing season (120-130 days). In the U.S., peanuts are mainly grown in three regions: the Southeast (Georgia, Florida, and Alabama), the Southwest (New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma), and the Virginia-Carolina area (Virginia and North Carolina). Peanuts are a major cash crop in the Roosevelt, Lea, and Curry counties of New Mexico. Variety, limited groundwater and disease are the three major factors limiting crop yield in these regions. Supplemental irrigation is feasible only with rainfall; one possible solution is to develop a high-yield variety. Plant breeders suggest selecting genotypes for increased yield and stability with relatively low disease infestation and drought sensitivity. The genetic progress in yield improvement has been derived based on phenotypic selection, which is a function of the heritability of the trait. Nigam, et al., (1985) have shown that agronomic traits in peanuts are influenced by genetic variation. Association among morphological and reproductive traits is very important in any breeding program. Morphological traits are often highly heritable, but there is no direct correlation seen between the traits and pod yield in peanuts due to segregation prior to harvest (Nigam et al., 1984). The main advantage of transgressive segregation is that if the selected parents possess desirable genes or traits of interest, after crossover it is possible to produce progeny which possess the strengths of both parents without much contribution from their weaknesses. In evaluating quantitative traits (for example, pod yield), the plant breeder needs to select several hundred progeny in order to come up with a favorable alleles and fewer unfavorable ones. Screening of traits for pod yield may take a lot of time and effort. One area where a plant breeder can reduce his time is to select for molecular markers linked to Quantitative Trait Loci (QTLs), that influence the trait, thereby reducing the error due to selection and increasing the accuracy in detecting the genes of interest. Plant improvement based on marker-assisted selection will result in obtaining information relating to a gene of interest, interaction between and among genes controlled by a trait and stability of gene function in different environments (Dudley, 1993). Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism (AFLPs) have proven to be fast and reliable tools in the breeding programs. Selection of genotypes for increased yield and stability and with relatively low disease infestation and drought sensitivity is cheaper, but very time consuming. Association of morphological and molecular marker data has proven to be of special interest because of the subterranean nature of the pod development. Transfer of the better-flavored Valencia peanuts from the U.S. to the Bulgaria breeding program can create a high-quality competitive product. This would have the effect of opening the Bulgarian market to the world, European and regional markets. Vital to this endeavor would be the creation and implementation of new peanut varieties, which do not require extra expenditure in the growth process. New varieties can be developed through molecular and hybridization techniques to capture good flavor of the New Mexico Valencia peanut varieties. The United States can also benefit because some of the disease-resistant peanut varieties from Bulgaria will reduce the cost of fungicide application. Mutual exchange of genetic materials between the two countries can result in better production and economic growth for both nations.