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Title: Moderate chill peach variety development for the Southeastern United States

Author
item Beckman, Thomas - Tom
item Chaparro, Jose - University Of Florida
item Conner, Patrick - University Of Georgia

Submitted to: Acta Horticulturae
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/6/2014
Publication Date: 5/20/2015
Citation: Beckman, T.G., Chaparro, J.X., Conner, P.J. 2015. Moderate chill peach variety development for the Southeastern United States. Acta Horticulturae. 1084:165-170.

Interpretive Summary: The early season peach production area in the lower coastal plain of the southeastern United States has never had the benefit of breeding efforts targeting their specific needs. This 3-way regional project was initiated in 1986 and, at this time, involves USDA, UGA and UFL research scientists and breeders in a cooperative effort to develop new peach varieties for this industry. Following the movement of the evaluation site to the UGA research and extension center in Attapulgus, GA, this project made an (at the time) ‘radical’ decision to abandon conventional melting flesh germplasm and instead utilize non-melting (i.e. ‘canning’) germplasm in the development of fresh market shipping peaches. It was our belief that the slower softening, non-melting characteristic would allow growers to pick fruit at a more mature stage, thus improving size, appearance and eating quality without sacrificing shipping ability. The validity of this approach has been borne out with the development and release of five non-melting peaches with adaptation for this production area. Two of these releases have been well received by the industry. ‘Gulfking’ has already displaced ‘Flordaking’ from its previous ranking as the most widely planted cultivar in this industry and ‘Gulfcrimson’ is expected to similarly displace the number two variety, ‘June Gold’, within the next couple of years. A number of advanced selections are nearing a release decision that will flesh out an entire production season of non-melting type cultivars for this industry plus several new product lines that will broaden this industry’s market presence.

Technical Abstract: The Southeastern U.S. peach industry is concentrated in two production areas, i.e. Central Georgia/South Carolina (high chill, main season) and the Lower Coastal Plain (moderate chill, early season) along the Gulf coast. These two areas have distinctly different climates, and consequently, require different priorities for the breeding of new peach varieties. While the main season production areas in central Georgia and South Carolina have been supported for nearly 75 years by the breeding programs at the USDA-Byron location in central Georgia and Clemson University South Carolina, the lower coastal plain production area has never enjoyed focused breeding support and, instead, had to rely on the occasional ‘spin-off’ from other peach breeding programs, many of which are now shuttered. In 1991, a cooperative, moderate chill peach breeding program was established by the University of Georgia, the University of Florida and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (Byron, Georgia) to address the unique needs of this industry. A novel aspect of this program has been its utilization of non-melting (i.e. “canning”) flesh germplasm for the fresh market where melting flesh cultivars have traditionally reigned supreme. Non-melting flesh germplasm was utilized to take advantage of its slower rate of softening as fruit approaches maturity compared to melting types. This has made possible the breeding of peaches that can be harvested at a more mature stage, allowing the development of significantly improved eating quality, larger size and more red blush without sacrificing the firmness required for long distance shipping. To date, this program has released seven varieties including five non-melting peach cultivars, two of which are already being planted widely.