That same year, the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences released a weapon to help farmers combat the disease. Georgia Green, a TSWV-resistant variety, became available to farmers on a small scale.
Now, only five years later, more than 90 percent of the peanut acreage in the Southeast is planted in Georgia Green.
Strong Resistance, High Yields
Between the mid-'70s and mid-'90s, Florunner was the dominant peanut variety grown in Georgia. But Florunner was very susceptible to spotted wilt, which by the early '80s had become an economic problem.
The industry also needed higher yields, said Bill Branch, the UGA peanut breeder who developed Georgia Green at the Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton.
"Georgia Green combines high yields and high grade with strong TSWV resistance," Branch said. "Georgia Green results in greater dollar value return per acre for growers."
Over the past three years, Georgia Green has averaged the highest yield, grade and dollar return of all runner-type varieties in side-by-side comparisons.
It tastes good, too. If you like peanut butter, chances are you like Georgia Green. Of the state's $400 million peanut crop, about 75 percent goes into peanut butter. Nearly all of the rest hits the stores as snacks or in candies. In 1999, Georgia grew 37 percent of the nation's peanuts.
Despite three years of drought and increased TSWV pressure, state growers have averaged about 2,600 pounds per acre with Georgia Green. During a similar drought in 1980, growers reached only 1,935 pounds per acre with Florunner, with no TSWV pressure.
Georgia Green, along with other management tools developed by CAES scientists, saved state growers $28 million in 1999 alone.
Branch said Georgia Green, because of its multiple-gene resistance, will continue to be a viable variety for growers for many more years.
"Georgia Green has consistently performed well from field to field and year to year over many different management systems and environments," Branch said. "We can now manage TSWV with Georgia Green."
The variety has helped save the Southeastern peanut industry during recent years of drought and spotted wilt, said Emory Murphy of the Georgia Peanut Commission.
"We would have been in a mess if we didn't have Georgia Green in our industry," Murphy said. "That's about the best way I can put it. If we hadn't had Georgia Green, our alternatives would have been dismal. It came along at a very important time in making the difference in our growers, not only staying competitive, but even growing peanuts."
Since its release, Georgia Green has been grown in some of the most extreme weather to hit Georgia, Murphy said. "It has held up extremely well," he said. "It hasn't had the chance to be assessed on a full-scale commercial basis under what we would consider normal conditions. We are very glad we've had Georgia Green available to the farmers."
The CAES will spotlight Georgia Green at the 2000 Sunbelt Agricultural Expo Oct. 17-19 in Moultrie, Ga.
(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)