Researcher Training Peanuts to Withstand Drought

09 Dec Researcher Training Peanuts to Withstand Drought

Monday, December 9th, 2013
Can farmers train peanuts to withstand drought?

A University of Florida professor plans to find out.

Diane Rowland, an associate professor of agronomy in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, won a four-year, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study how cutting back on water during the early development of peanut plants can make the overall crop more drought tolerant.

Rowland has done similar work in Texas and Georgia over the past decade, using a process called primed acclimation to put the plants in moderate drought stress before the crop begins producing peanuts. By giving the plants 60 to 70 percent of their normal irrigation, Rowland prepares the plant for less water when the weather dries up.

The process is like training for an athletic competition. When summer arrives, a primed plant is better able to tolerate drought.

“If you don’t condition your plants early, they tend to be less hardy,” she said.

A study Rowland and other scientists published in October 2012 also studied crop acclimation but looked at only one peanut variety. In the new research, Rowland said she hopes to acclimate several peanut varieties.

While some peanut varieties are specifically bred to withstand drought, crop management is important, too, Rowland believes.

“The strength is combining both,” she said. “What is unique about this research is we start with a production management system that we know works, and now we are working with breeders to fit genotypes and varieties into the system.”

Farmers already are good at adjusting their irrigation schedule to adapt to weather conditions, but the peanut research will show with more scientific certainty what is the optimum amount of water to use to acclimate certain varieties under certain drought conditions.

In the past, plants that were acclimated for drought, but then given a normal amount of water through the rest of the growing season did not suffer any bad effects from their training, Rowland said.

Water is a valuable resource in the parts of north Florida, south Georgia and south Alabama where peanuts are grown, and drought is a challenge to farmers in the Deep South. Maintaining sustainable crop production despite limited water has become “the single most important challenge in the U.S. agricultural industry and worldwide,” Rowland wrote in her grant application.

The research will happen in west Texas and at UF’s Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra.

Allison Floyd
from Growing Georgia Magazine