New Technique Shown to Increase Marketable Yield of Organic Peaches

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Organic peach production is extremely difficult in the humid conditions of the Southeast due to high pest and disease pressures, and the lack of effective, organically approved pesticides. Few growers have taken the risk and transitioned to organic peach farming. Currently, there is only one certified organic peach producer in South Carolina and none in Georgia (one grower is in the process of transition). In 2016, OFRF funded a project aimed at providing growers in the Southeast with a new tool to reduce the risk of transitioning to organic production of peaches.

A research team at Clemson University in South Carolina, led by Assistant Professor Juan Carlos Melgar, tested the use of paper bags to physically protect the fruit from pests and diseases and reduce reliance on spray applications. This strategy is being used in other parts of the world to protect the fruit from pests and diseases and produce a high quality peach. Fruits are individually bagged by hand at early stages of development, and paper bags protect the fruit during the rest of the season from diseases, insects, and sunburn.

Melgar's hypothesis is that this technique may not only be used as an additional tool to reduce production risk, but may also allow for a significant reduction of organic pesticide applications. The bagged fruit was compared with non-bagged fruit (control) in a 4-acre orchard on an organic farm. Results showed an increase in marketable yield in the bagged treatment. Bagged fruit had the same size, weight, and soluble solid content as non-bagged fruit, and were less acidic than control fruit.

The team's preliminary data suggests the increase in yield due to disease suppression alone would cover the labor cost of bagging individual fruit: bags increased the percentage of marketable fruit, there was no insect damage in fruit grown in bags, and there was significantly less brown rot development at harvest and postharvest.

Nevertheless, one year of results based on single tree replicates (there were bagged fruit and non-bagged fruit on the same tree) was not enough to make solid conclusions and the investigators have secured funds from an USDA NIFA OREI grant to continue studying the use of paper bags for the production of organic peaches in the Southeastern U.S. Researchers from Clemson University, the University of Georgia, and the University of Florida, and peach growers from South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida are participating in this $1M grant.

Funding innovative work at the early stages becomes very impactful when researchers are able to grow their programs and continue to work on a larger scale. OFRF is extremely pleased to see another one of our grant recipients use their initial OFRF award to leverage additional funding. Congratulations!