Saturday, June 15, 2024

Peanut Breeding Innovator Inducted Into The Georgia Agricultural Hall of Fame

William D. Branch

An innovator in peanut breeding whose research revitalized an industry, William D. Branch, Georgia Seed Development professor in peanut breeding and genetics in the University of Georgia’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, was recently inducted into the Georgia Agricultural Hall of Fame at the 68th UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Alumni Association Awards in Athens.

Established in 1972, the Georgia Agricultural Hall of Fame honors individuals making extraordinary contributions to agriculture and agribusiness industries in the state.

Inductees are nominated by members of the public and selected by the awards committee of the CAES Alumni Association. Those nominated must be of impeccable character, have outstanding leadership skills, made noteworthy contributions to Georgia’s agricultural landscape and been recognized for achievements in agriculture and other areas.

Immense Impact On The Southeastern Peanut Industry

William D. Branch became interested in plant breeding while growing up on a farm in south central Oklahoma where his family grew wheat and a few acres of peanuts. Following high school, he continued his education in agronomy at Oklahoma State University, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and his doctorate before taking a postdoctoral position at Auburn University. In 1978, Branch moved to Tifton, Georgia, to begin working with the UGA peanut breeding program at the Coastal Plain Experiment Station.

Branch’s work with peanut cultivars has improved the profitability of peanut farming in Georgia, the Southeast and the world at large. Peanut cultivars developed by Branch account for more than 80% of the peanut acreage grown in Georgia and the Southeast. Branch has released 31 elite peanut cultivars and five improved germplasm lines and populations for use by fellow plant breeders. Two cultivars, Georgia Green and Georgia O6G, have been credited with saving the Southeastern U.S. peanut industry due to their resistance to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. In addition to disease resistance, the cultivars are designed to have higher yields and improved shelling efficiency to increase profitability without increasing input costs.

Between the release of Georgia Runner and the recent release of Georgia-18RU, there has been an increase in yield of 1,995 pounds per acre, equating to an increase in profit of $325 per acre. Today growers in Georgia make $220 million more per year than they did when the Georgia Runner was released. No one has had a greater impact on the top crop of the state’s leading industry than Branch, who has spent his career improving peanut genetics for the benefit of Georgians and the nation.

Article by Maria M. Lameiras, managing editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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