August 2017
Farm & Field

The Perfect Peanut

A new cultivar developed at Auburn University produces higher yields and boasts greater health benefits than current varieties.


Dr. Charles Chen stands by the sign for Comer Hall with a bag of AU-NPL17 peanuts.

Auburn University may have produced the perfect peanut. The new variety, called AU-NPL 17, surpassed other varieties in yields, disease resistance and health benefits.

This runner-type cultivar is the first of its kind to be released by Auburn, but it yields higher in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Uniform Peanut Performance Test than the widely used Georgia-06G. The runner-type peanut is most commonly used for making peanut butter. Alabama was home to over 175,000 acres of runner-type peanuts in 2016.

AU-NPL 17 yields 6,449 pounds per acre and the Georgia-06G falls at 6,175 pounds per acre. The Georgia-06G has been regarded as the best choice for Southeastern peanut growers for years. However, the new AU-NPL 17 was ranked first in the Uniform Peanut Performance test in Alabama and second in North Carolina while the Georgia-06G ranked fifth in both tests.

Dr. Charles Chen is responsible for the breeding program that is a joint effort between the College of Agriculture’s Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences Department and the USDA. Chen previously worked for the USDA Agricultural Research Service as a research geneticist. Since joining the College of Agriculture as a professor of peanut breeding and genetics in 2012, Chen has established a research pipeline.

Chen said the goal of the research program is to continuously improve genetics.

The AU-NPL 17 has been tested in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina where it has shown good adaptability in nonirrigated fields, twin-row patterns and without fungicide treatment.

According to Chen, the AU-NPL 17 is well-adapted specifically to Alabama farmers’ growing practices.

"Many farms in Alabama don’t have irrigation like those in Georgia," Chen said. "AU-NPL17 is well-suited for our state’s resources as it can tolerate less water than the Georgia-06G variety."

AU-NPL 17 can be planted in two rows, a method used by Alabama farmers to produce higher yields than single-row planting.

"Not every peanut variety performs as well as others in twin-rows," Chen said. "But the AU-NPL 17 showed it could produce high yields when planted in twin-rows."

AU-NPL 17 is resistant to tomato spotted wilt virus and tolerant to leaf spot disease that plagues farmers in the Southeast. It also has some resistance to white mold.

"Pests will never be a problem that is completely solved," Chen said. "Over time, they become resistant to herbicides used on the plants; so we have to keep developing new cultivars."

The Auburn breeding program is new to the Southeast, but progress is being made. Chen said future cultivars will be developed at Auburn from the foundation laid by the AU-NPL 17.

"We want to continue creating new cultivars with the best traits for the Southeast," Chen said. "AU-NPL 17 showed it was more resistant to or tolerant of tomato spotted wilt virus, early and late leaf spot, and white mold than other cultivars tested in the Uniform Peanut Performance Test," Chen said.

According to Chen, producing a better peanut goes beyond the field and provides consumers with nutritional benefits.

The AU-NPL 17 boasts health benefits for consumers because it contains a higher amount of oleic acid than standard varieties.

Oleic acid reduces LDL, or bad cholesterol, and increases HDL, or good cholesterol. Oleic acid also increases the shelf life of peanut products. These same monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil and canola oil, which are competing products with peanut oil.

According to Chen, industry trends are indicating a demand for high-oleic peanuts.

"The United States doesn’t produce as many high-oleic peanuts as competing countries," Chen said. "I believe that will change."

Chen said Argentina and Australia currently produce more high-oleic peanuts than the United States.

High-oleic peanuts are worth more to farmers bringing a premium price. Top peanut buyers are committing to purchasing only high-oleic peanuts in the future.

To help farmers obtain this premium price sooner rather than later, Chen said he hopes to have 120 tons of AU-NPL 17 foundation seed available to farmers with a few farmers growing test seed in 2018 and most farmers growing by 2019. Six thousand pounds of seed will be planted this year by the Alabama Crop Improvement Association.


Rebecca Oliver is a freelance writer from Auburn.