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Peach Breeder Wins Technology Transfer Award / February 13, 2002 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Story about Okie's peach breeding research

Spring Satin plumcots
In addition to peaches, Okie also bred Spring Satin, the first plumcot (cross between plum and apricot) cultivar that is well adapted to medium-high chill areas of the South. More


Peach Breeder Wins Technology Transfer Award

By Jim Core
February 13, 2002

BELTSVILLE, Md., Feb. 13—William R. Okie, a research horticulturist with the Agricultural Research Service in Byron, Ga., has won a technology transfer award from the agency for the development of peach varieties and rootstocks that have been vital to the survival of the peach industry in the Southeast. ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Peach growers in southeastern states have struggled in recent years with problems of obsolete varieties and reduced orchard life due to Peach Tree Short Life (PTSL) disease. Producers must grow many different varieties to maintain a supply of peaches from May to September and to adapt to the different climate zones, from the coastal plains to the mountains. Guardian rootstock, developed by Okie and other ARS scientists in cooperation with Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., has resistance to root-knot nematode and greatly enhanced survival against PTSL.

Okie, based at the ARS Southeastern Fruit and Tree Nut Research Laboratory at Byron, will be honored today during a 1 p.m. ceremony at the agency’s Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center.

“Since 1980, Dr. Okie has released 11 yellow-fleshed peach varieties for commercial production in the Southeast. Most of the older varieties are now the predominant varieties in their respective season, and the newer varieties are being planted in higher numbers,” said Edward B. Knipling, ARS acting administrator. “In 1982, Dr. Okie started a rootstock breeding and development program and selected the material that was later released as Guardian peach rootstock. It has since become the primary peach rootstock for the Southeast, with more than six million seeds sold.”

The extended orchard life conferred by Guardian rootstock results in savings of an estimated $4-5 million a year for peach tree growers.

Okie produced the USDA “Handbook of Peach and Nectarine Varieties” in 1998. The agricultural handbook describes more than 6,000 varieties and has been distributed all over the United States and to most peach-growing countries worldwide.

Okie grew up in Hendersonville, N.C. He received his B.S. in horticulture from Oregon State University, his M.S. in plant protection from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and his Ph.D. in horticulture and genetics from North Carolina State University.

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Last Modified: 2/13/2002
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