The research team has received a four-year $500,000 federal grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to investigate strategies that can improve the drought tolerance of peanuts. The research aims to acclimate (acclimatize) around six peanut varieties to drought conditions that can then be used in breeding programs.
There is a big industry need for drought resistant peanuts, particularly as it is such an important food crop globally, said Diane Rowland, associate professor of agronomy at the University of Florida and faculty member of the university’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS).
“Drought conditions are increasing in severity across the globe, including in the US… In the US, in parts of Texas and the southwest, drought conditions have been worsening over the last decade,” Rowland told BakeryandSnacks.com.
Similarly in areas of the southeast, where production is important to the agricultural economy in the US, there are concerns, she said. “Drought and water resources are declining and much of it is due to not receiving the rainfall totals when the crop needs it – during the reproductive stage.”
Primed acclimation – less water early on
Rowland and her team will continue investigating a process called primed acclimation – where peanuts are watered around 60-70% of the normal irrigation rate before the crop begins producing peanuts.
The method prepares the plant for less water when the weather dries up, she explained. “If you don’t condition your plants early, they tend to be less hardy.”
However, there can be some downsides if the process is not optimized, she said. “If you have the reduction in water too severe, that could be a problem and could stress the crop too much.”
Production management tools
Beyond the primed acclimation process, the team will also look into other production management tools that can be used in combination to conserve more water in the crop.
Conservation tillage or strip tillage – where soil is disturbed in strips throughout the field – can increase rain infiltration, decrease evaporation and wind erosion and add organic matter, Rowland explained.
This production method in combination with primed acclimation can better condition the crop, improve endurance and increase recovery in times of drought.
Research so far has indicated that strip tillage with primed acclimation can improve peanut yield at a 50% water deficit.
The team has already introduced many ideas to industry via its PeanutFARM site that advices peanut growers manage irrigation and predict maturity for individual fields.
Rowland said the research grant should enable to team to refine research into primed acclimation and eventually communicate findings with industry through the website.