William “Bill” Branch, a professor in the University of Georgia Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and a peanut breeder, has been named to the Georgia Seed Development Professorship in Peanut Breeding and Genetics.
Since joining the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in 1978, Branch has worked to develop new peanut varieties to help with the battle against tomato spotted wilt virus, a disease that ravaged peanut fields across the Southeast in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Supporting Breeding Efforts
The Georgia Seed Development Professorship in Peanut Breeding and Genetics was established with support from GSD to enhance the field of plant breeding, genetics and genomics programs through professorships and research programs at UGA.
Created in 1959 by the Georgia General Assembly, GSD provides economic support for the development of new varieties, which in turn provide new business opportunities to help keep agriculture as Georgia’s number one industry. In 2008, it was designated as a public, nonprofit corporation by the Georgia legislature.
Over the past four decades, Branch has developed more than 20 peanut varieties with the consistent goal of increased yield and grade as well as disease resistance to improve the farmer’s profitability. Better shelling characteristics, enhanced flavor and greater nutritional aspects are improvements for both the producer and consumer.
Early in the fight against TSWV, Branch developed the Georgia Green variety, a cross between Southern Runner and Sunbelt Runner that helped get the peanut industry back on track. To improve upon Georgia Green, Branch released Georgia-06G, which is the predominant runner variety grown today.
“Peanut breeding is a long-term program that takes a lot of patience,” Branch says. “Today, we have genetic markers available to assist with peanut breeding and help speed up the process. These tools help breeders make selections based on disease resistance for new varieties.”
Branch encourages the next generation to look for career opportunities in peanut breeding.
“This is exactly what I wanted to do,” he says. “Individuals need to view peanut breeding as a long-term career and have patience when developing the next variety.”
Branch can often be found in his greenhouse crossing a future line or out in the field tracking each variety’s growth while watching for potential issues. The goal of helping peanut farmers make a profit by providing a variety with increased yield and grade while satisfying industry and consumer demands is ever-present in his mind.
Article by Maria M. Lameiras for the UGA CAES.