Professor holds peanut seminar

Mani Narayana, a visiting scholar with the New Mexico State University Agriculture Science Center at Clovis, displays Valencia peanuts on the table during peanut field day Thursday at the research field. CNJ staff photo by Eric Kluth

David Irvin

New Mexico farmers and crop scientists gathered Thursday morning on the sandy fields of New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Experiment station to talk about peanuts.

The main topic at the annual peanut field day was Naveen Puppala’s work on a specialized hybrid peanut plant bred to thrive in this region.

Because of a suitable climate and elevation, the Valencia peanut plants grown around here typically yield large, multiple-peanut pods.

Puppala, assistant professor at NMSU and peanut breeder at the experiment station, said it was his intention to “double-up” the variety, creating a hybrid between two kinds of peanut plants to produce a new breed with a higher yield that is also disease resistant and matches the traditional sweet taste of Valencia peanuts.

LeRoy Daugherty, associate dean and associate director for the agricultural experiment station, said the sweet taste of the Valencia variety is what makes them the peanut of choice at professional baseball ballparks.

“The overall purpose for the peanut breeding is to increase the yield,” said Daugherty, associate director for the agricultural experiment station. “The main thrust (at the experiment station) is the breeding.”

It is important for the research being done by Puppala and other scientists at the station to succeed, said Wayne Baker, president of the New Mexico Peanut Research Board.
“We are really behind the curve in research in plant yield, breeding and diseases,” Baker said.

He said Roosevelt County processed 50 million pounds of Valencia peanuts last year, which resulted in $30 million in economic activity for the area. The current demand for peanuts in the market is still greater than the output, he said.

Eastern New Mexico farmers grow more than 80 percent of the United States’ annual supply of specialty Valencia peanuts, a press released from NMSU said.

Although the area holds the dominant market share on the crop, farmers in the area believe they are falling behind other states that have been able to reduce their farming costs by using different varieties of peanut plants.

“The local growers became very insistent that they create a better peanut,” said Garvin Chandler, who’s farmed for 35 years. “This research is a real vital thing, or we are going to lose industry.”

Chandler said the Valencia breed has not been improved on in about 20 years, and in that time other growing regions have made strides to reduce agricultural costs and sell their nuts at lower prices. The work being done at the experiment station will help farmers in this region increase yield per acre, a step desperately needed to reduce costs and compete in the marketplace, he said.