CLEMSON, S.C. The warmer-than-normal temperatures of 2012 the fourth warmest year on record in South Carolina signal potential challenges for growers of the state's best-known fruit. Peaches need cold weather to produce flowers and fruit. What happens when the chill is gone?
"In the spring, many of us think it's longer days and warmer temperatures that start the growth cycle," said Clemson University plant biologist Douglas Bielenberg. "Actually, peach leaf and flower buds are set the previous summer, then they go dormant in the winter. The tree must get sufficient chilling hours to trigger buds to open. Without this chill time, very few peach varieties will bloom well, if at all."
With research funding from the Clemson University Experiment Station, Bielenberg's work on plant dormancy and chilling can help plant breeders and the S.C. peach industry deal with agricultural and economic consequences of climate change.
The requirement for winter cold is the major factor in determining where peaches can be reliably grown for commercial fruit production. Historically, most commercially appealing peaches were developed in colder climates, where chilling hours posed no problem. In warmer regions, such as the coastal South, plant breeders had to cross those appealing peach varieties with lower-quality, low-chill varieties. Breeding premium fruit with low chilling hours has been an ongoing project.
"To grow peaches in low-chill areas breeders had to incorporate genes from trees that did not have elite fruit quality but did have low-chilling genes, which means they diluted the quality traits and then had to build them back up," Bielenberg said. "This takes time years and years. Our work provides research-based information and techniques to breeders to speed up the incorporation of low-chill genes into current elite cultivars while maintaining high fruit-quality traits. The goal is to adapt our current cultivars to future warmer win
|Contact: Douglas Bielenberg|