22 Aug Clemson University's PeeDee REC Peach Breeding Research
Jonathan Windham discusses the research he’s doing to give peach farmers a second chance at pollination based off of second bloom traits found in wild roses at the Clemson University Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence, SC.
A lot of people don’t know that Clemson has a peach breeding program and it’s part of a national effort called The Rose Breed Project. And so, with peach breeding, you get one shot a year to make your crosses out in the field and in South Carolina we normally get hit with the late freeze, so if you make a cross in the field and then it gets hit with a late freeze, then you’ve lost your work for the year. But if that tree were to re-bloom, let’s say in a greenhouse, then you could increase your odds of getting a successful cross in that season and moving your program forward as far as hybrids are concerned. So, with my graduate project, we are examining the re-blooming capacity found in roses naturally. Wild roses have developed a mutation when they bloom continuously throughout the year and we are studying that mutation to see if we can’t engineer that into our peaches. Long term, we are just trying to speed breed peaches for the Clemson peach breeding program, so we’re giving our breeder more opportunities per season and the more hybrids that she can create per season, the more she can sort of weed through those bad genes and find that one hybrid that is really gonna stand out in South Carolina as far as production goes. Cross-pollination is a tried-and-true method, but it’s rather slow. Peaches unfortunately take three to five years before they even flower or make fruit, so three to five years after you’ve done your initial pollination in the orchard, you have this hybrid that you can finally start evaluating the characteristics of this fruit. And so we’re looking at newer, new techniques to see if we can’t increase the time between pollination and introducing a new hybrid to market. With this research, if we can understand the mechanism behind bloom time then we can create newer hybrids and these hybrids will require less fertilizers, less water, they’ll be more drought tolerant, more disease resistant. So, we’re striving to create peach trees that require less input from the farmer, which will lower production costs for the farmer, which will ultimately lower costs for consumers. So the PeeDee REC is actually the plant-breeding REC so to speak. This is the headquarters of Clemson’s advanced plant technology program. A few years ago, we completely renovated the building. We have four brand new laboratories devoted to plant biotechnology and each of these laboratories is focusing on a different crop that’s important to South Carolina. And peaches is one of those crops. South Carolina, we are actually the number two peach producer in the United States. A lot of people think it’s Georgia, no we actually are second behind California in peach production, so peaches are really big deal in South Carolina and the more hybrids that we can create and the more more resistant varieties that we can get to market faster we’re really going to do a lot for our industry.