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Global Research Brightens Future for Peanut Growers

As the federal government ponders the future of farm programs, one research group is preparing for life with or without price supports.

The Peanut Collaborative Research Support Program is finding worldwide solutions now that may help Georgia farmers in the future.

"Peanuts are a global crop with global problems," said John Williams, assistant program director of the Peanut CRSP at the University of Georgia Agricultural Experiment Station in Griffin.

"Peanuts have leaf spot wherever they grow," he said. "Wherever peanuts are grown, used or stored, aflatoxin is a problem. The research we support in utilization has no boundaries. Some of it is focused on small producers, but that's scale. Those technologies can be scaled up much easier than scaled down."

The Peanut CRSP uses international research to solve the global and domestic problems of growing peanuts.

"The Peanut CRSP is the outcome of an act of Congress to deploy the skills and knowledge of the land-grant system for development," Williams said. "The goal is to achieve peanut technology that helps both developing countries and the United States."

One of the program's major focuses is creating new peanut products.

"Developing products outside the United States promotes consumption, which encourages exports and trade," Williams said.

Scientists at the UGA Center for Food Safety and Quality Enhancement in Griffin add to the program. They've focused on product development in the Philippines and Thailand and post-harvest handling and storage in Jamaica and Belize. In 1996, a new project began in Bulgaria.

One of the greatest possibilities for U.S. farmers is oil.

"The potential is spectacular for peanuts," Williams said. "The oil from peanuts, from a health perspective, equals the quality of olive oil." Olive oil sells for three to four times the price of other oils.

"We're working to help expand that quality market. And we're going to be promoting these desirable high-oleic oils so people move to frying with healthier oils," Williams said.

"The general peanut oil isn't as healthy as canola or olive oil. But these new ones are," he said. "They match very closely with olive oil's health qualities. Down the road, it's going to be really important."

The CRSP research also enables farmers to grow peanuts with lower input costs.

"On a global scale, a sustained development of technologies has led to better varieties," Williams said. "There are a number of components of that. One is developing and accessing germ plasm. Many of the problems with peanuts have cheap solutions in the genetics."

That long-term investment into resistance is going to be important.

"The people outside the United States have been more concerned up until now, because they've had to compete on a world-price basis," he said. "So for them, cheap technology to control diseases has a greater priority than here."

The long-term survival of the American peanut industry may depend on using such technology.

"Certainly it could help reduce chemical inputs," he said. "And you will have to use other technologies like integrated pest management that use resistance, management techniques and a small amount of chemicals."

One of the CRSP successes is research that takes genes from wild relatives and puts them into peanuts to create resistances. Farmers now can buy varieties resistant to leaf spot disease, which costs Georgia farmers $100 to $150 per acre per year for chemical control.

"The opportunity is there through resistances to cut that to $50 per acre," Williams said.

The Peanut CRSP can show a $10 U.S. return for every $1 spent from the release of new varieties, he said.

"When the program was started there was a great deal of cry about why Congress was spending all this money to make other countries more competitive," Williams said. "That probably has changed."

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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