Volume 1 / Issue 2 / September 2022
Our newsletter includes updates on initiatives and successes of the Charles Simpson Endowed Peanut Program at Texas A&M AgriLife Research. Our goal is to keep you informed about exciting projects and strive to continue Dr. Simpson’s vision at the forefront in peanut research and development.
In this issue
Diesel Nut update | 2022 season kickoff | Dealing with drought | Advanced technology: Raman spectroscopy | Robots in research | 2021 burglary update | Thank you | Contact
Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Stephenville is dedicated to preserving and developing peanuts for Texas growers
The peanut program at Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Stephenville presently focuses on: maintaining and using the wild species collection that Dr. Simpson collected over his career as well as expanding our cultivar development program. Stephenville’s peanut program has 13 research plots across Texas developing varieties with improved yield and grade, drought tolerance, disease resistance, organic production, and nutritional characteristics.
Have you ever heard of a Diesel Nut? We have!
The Stephenville peanut research team is excited to announce a new project that will have far reaching impacts on peanut production and furthers the story of Dr Rudolph and his diesel engine. At the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, Dr Rudolph introduced his revolutionary diesel engine that ran on peanut oil instead of petroleum. He became an advocate for using vegetable oils as a potential fuel source, stating in 1911, “The use of plant oil as fuel may seem insignificant today. But such products can in time become just as important as kerosene and these coal-tar-products of today.” Peanuts can produce up to 350 gallons of oil per acre, compared to soybean’s 50. Couple this with the fact that peanuts require less fertilizer than other crops and you have the potential to develop an entirely new market. Chevron is looking to do just this by targeting marginal lands not currently in peanut production and producing a high oil peanut with a minimal carbon footprint. Chevron and the Stephenville peanut research team believe the Diesel Nut project has the potential to transform Texas Agriculture and beyond. The five-year project will look at economics, environmental impacts, and production of a low input, low-cost peanut through variety development and management practices. Activities are already underway in economics, cropping systems, and breeding. Check out the official AgriLife Research project announcement here!
Ready or not, the 2022 season is here!
This year the Stephenville peanuts program oversees field locations in Gaines, Terry, Yoakum, Collingsworth, Wilbarger, Comanche, Erath, Dewitt, and Frio Counties. To kick things off, the team planted the first plots in the same field Dr Cason oversaw when he was first hired as an assistant professor in 2019. Tears of nostalgia threatened to freeze in the 37°F weather. Planting was completed in the last week of June where temperatures blazed at 105°F. This just goes to show how the peanut is the perfect crop for the diverse Texas climate! Plots at these locations will help to identify lines that have potential to be released as varieties. Included in these plots are two disease screening nurseries. One nursery is for Sclerotinia and another is for leaf spot, where breeding lines will be evaluated for resistance to these fungal pathogens.
The Stephenville peanuts program is in its second year of a National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grant that is researching leaf spot resistance in germplasm from both the United States and Africa. This project allows American breeders to collaborate with researchers in several African countries, such as Senegal and Burkina Faso, where leaf spot is a major issue. At the two nurseries we will be using Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to develop new screening methods that would increase the accuracy of our leaf spot ratings for the future. As we move into summer, we will begin collecting data to help us identify which lines to implement into the peanut breeding program. The Stephenville peanut program continually strives to develop the best peanut varieties for growers in the Southwest!
Dealing with drought
What a difference a year makes! In spring of 2021, we were unable to plant at two central Texas locations due to excessive rain. During the season, the rains fell at different rates until it stopped completely in the fall. As of late August, we were still waiting for a good soak. The entire state of Texas and large portions of the US are in a historic heatwave and extended drought. I always joke with my staff that when it gets hot over the summer months, the peanut crew’s patience dries up along with everything else! However, a silver lining lies in the opportunity to identify and isolate drought tolerant endophytes, a symbiotic bacterium or fungus that aids in a plant’s survival from external stressors.
Advanced technology: Raman spectroscopy
Raman Spectroscopy (RS) is an analytical technique that uses a laser to excite molecules in a sample and identify the compound(s) based on their unique vibrational reaction. The Stephenville peanut research team believes RS holds the key to helping breeders identify desirable peanut components in a timely and efficient manner. We are commencing several large projects this summer, including one to scan our breeding lines and develop a database of information on our new varieties. In the future, the Stephenville peanut program hopes to use this in conjunction with UAS and other hand measurements to identify elite breeding lines as early as possible and introduce them into the testing program.
In addition, the Essential Amino Acid project continues to progress as we have had success using RS to identify lysine signatures. We have welcomed new collaborators on the project, Gayan Nawaratna and Corey Klemashevich, who will be assisting on amino acid extractions following the departure of Joshua Yuan who accepted a department head position at Cornell University. As the project progresses, additional personnel in Stephenville will begin comprehensive scanning of the wild species collection. Scans will initially look for higher levels of lysine and methionine in the wild materials then transition to scanning for other valuable characteristics.
Robots in research
Another project the Stephenville peanut research team has roots in is robotic based agriculture. A NIFA/NSF grant funded project is researching ways swarm robotics can perform common tasks associated with agricultural production. The hope is that once fully developed an operator will give a swarm of robots (both air and ground based) a specific set of tasks they want completed. The swarm will decide the most efficient way to carry out these tasks and delegate the labor among the different units to accomplish them. As a first step the group of multidisciplinary researchers are designing a package that allows the different robots of the collective swarm to upload and share large amounts of information.
The Peanut program wanted to provide a follow up on the 2021 burglary at the Texas A&M AgriLife Stephenville Research and Extension Center last year. Some items were recovered, and others replaced but, all in all, we have almost everything taken care of. We want to give a huge thanks to the Stephenville and Fort Worth Police Department for recovering our pickup and to Texas A&M AgriLife for replacing the UAVs, UTV, and trailer that was stolen. Finally, we want to provide a big Gig’em to the Corpus Christi center for sending us a loaner UAV. Their generosity made it so only a single data collection was lost following the break-in!
Thank you for your support
We would like to thank you for your support of the Charles Simpson Endowed Research Fund. We are committed to preserving the legacy of Dr. Simpson and appreciate your partnership as we continue to sustain and advance his vision.
Texas A&M Foundation
Jennifer Ann Scasta ‘11, Ph.D.
Senior Director of Development
AgriLife Research, Stephenville
Emily N. Green
Peanut Breeding and Genetics