History of the U. S. Vegetable Laboratory, Charleston, South Carolina
The U. S. Vegetable Laboratory (formerly the Southeastern Regional Vegetable Breeding Laboratory and the U. S. Vegetable Breeding Laboratory) was established in 1936 under Title I, Section 4, of the Bankhead-Jones Act, approved by Congress on June 29, 1935. On March 1, 1936, a meeting of representatives from the USDA’s Bureau of Plant Industry and the Southeastern State Agricultural Experiment Stations was held in Charleston, South Carolina, to organize and plan a program of work for the new regional laboratory.
The mission of the Laboratory since its beginning has been to obtain, through fundamental research, basic information requisite to efficient and orderly breeding of improved vegetable crops for the southern region, and to produce new and improved vegetable cultivars and breeding stocks. Scientists at the laboratory endeavor to coordinate this research as far as possible with the work of the State Agricultural Experiment Stations, and to aid in dissemination of research results for the greatest benefit to agriculture in the southern region.
Scientists at the U. S. Vegetable Laboratory have enjoyed a close working relationship with the staff of the Clemson University Coastal Research and Education Center (formerly the Truck Crops Experiment Station and the Clemson University Coastal Experiment Station) since the mid-1930's. The U. S. Vegetable Laboratory was located next door to the Clemson University Coastal Research and Education Center until March 2003, when both groups moved into a new, $20,000,000.00, state-of-the-art office and laboratory facility designed, built, owned, and operated by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Although the nature of the research conducted by the two groups is similar, they have quite different responsibilities in that the USDA Laboratory is regional in scope and must concentrate on research with regional application.
The Laboratory is located in an area of long growing seasons, mild winters, and high humidity where plant disease epidemics, nematode infestations, and insect infestations are common. Most of the problem organisms found throughout the Southeast are present at this site; therefore much emphasis has been placed on host resistance in vegetable crops and on improved methods of plant pest control. Large numbers of field and greenhouse evaluation tests are conducted each year on plant introductions to determine reactions to pathogens, nematodes, and insects. New methods of control are also evaluated under natural conditions at the Charleston Laboratory.
Several prominent cultivars that have gained wide recognition have been developed at the U. S. Vegetable Laboratory. Notable among them are ‘Wade’, ‘Contender’, ‘Bonus’, ‘Extender’, ‘Provider’, and ‘Goldcoast’ snap bean; ‘Homestead’ and ‘Southland’ tomato; ‘Charleston Gray’, ‘Congo’, ‘Garrisonian’, ‘Graybelle’, ‘Fairfax’, and ‘Summerfield’ watermelon; ‘Gulfstream’, ‘Planters Jumbo’, and ‘Mainstream’ muskmelon; ‘Wando’ pea; and ‘Charleston Greenpack’ southernpea. In addition to these named cultivars, many useful inbred lines and breeding stocks have been released and distributed throughout the United States and abroad, often being used as parents in hybrids and cultivars in other areas.
Following the reorganization of the USDA in 1972, two other research units located at Charleston were merged with the old U. S. Vegetable Breeding Laboratory and the unit was renamed the U. S. Vegetable Laboratory. The Vegetable Insects and Nematology Units are now integral parts of the Laboratory. In 1980, a weed science unit was established to give a new, much-needed dimension to the vegetable research program. In 2004, a biologically-based management of vegetable crop diseases unit was also staffed to provide a new dimension to the Laboratory’s “tool box” for development of methods for controlling vegetable diseases. Currently, research is conducted in 7 discipline areas by a team of 11 scientists, made up of an agronomist, 4 geneticists, 2 entomologists, a nematologist, a fungal plant pathologist (vacant position), a bacteriologist, and a virologist.
The current research at the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory has several specific objectives in 2 broad problem areas: cultivar development and pest control. Crops covered by this program include snap beans, broccoli, cabbage, collards, cucumber, watermelon, muskmelon, pepper, southernpea, greens and leafy vegetables, tomato, and sweetpotato. In addition to the conventional methods of plant breeding and plant pest control, scientists at the Laboratory are now using new approaches and methodologies (e.g., doubled haploid methodology, marker-assisted- selection techniques, and nucleotide sequencing) to advance the technology of vegetable production.
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