In the Palmetto State, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t agree that South Carolina peaches are the best in the nation: sweet, juicy and fresh. Researchers at Clemson University’s Musser Fruit Farm are making sure the state’s industry – which ranks No. 2 in the nation – continues to thrive.
Musser Farm, located at Oconee Point in Seneca, is 240 acres of dedicated land and lab space for fruit tree research and student teaching. Though the farm grows other fruits such as blueberries, apples, apricots, plums and more, peaches are their main focus.
“We research the horticultural aspect of growing peaches and other fruits so we can advise growers which types are the best to plant in the area,” says Dr. Ksenija Gasic, associate professor of horticulture at Clemson, peach breeder and geneticist.
With more than 350 types of commercial peach cultivars, there’s no shortage of research specimens.
“We have an excellent team of researchers working on key problems threatening our peach industry, which is why it’s important that research is ongoing,” Gasic says.
Peach season in South Carolina begins in May and runs through September. Gasic says growers plant many different peach varieties to keep up with demand throughout the season. Also, because of South Carolina’s hot summer climate and high humidity, diseases and insects are ongoing threats. Finding ways to combat diseases that affect the peach tree and the fruit is top priority for researchers.
Among their accomplishments, researchers at the farm have developed the Guardian peach rootstock, which is resistant to peach tree short-life disease, once a devastating problem in South Carolina.
“Peach growers are always looking for new types to plant,” Gasic says. “We make new hybrids and evaluate them to see how they’ll perform in our environment, so we can provide growers with better choices.”
The Musser Farm also has a greenhouse, post-harvest storage rooms and labs for fruit testing.
To stay on top of current issues, researchers meet regularly with growers during the season. Gasic has an advisory board made up of growers for her breeding program.
“We talk about the issues they’re having and what we can do to help and what resources we may need,” she says.