In 1937, a year after the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory opened in Charleston, the News & Courier ran a story about goings-on at the facility, explaining “the exact purpose and duties of the station are not usually quite clear to the average person.” Nearly 80 years later, that observation still holds.
But while perceptions of the Savannah Highway lab — and Clemson University’s neighboring Coastal Research and Education Center, which focuses on regional agriculture — haven’t changed much, the nature of the resident scientists’ work has evolved dramatically.
The lab’s staff scientists continue to puzzle out responses to crop threats posed by pests and diseases, but now they’re doing so with the aid of state-of-the-art equipment, such as gene sequencers. (Although they’re not opposed to low-tech solutions: A team working to fight off fruit rot grows its trial phytophthora in rice saturated with V8 juice.)
“Agriculture is a science-driven industry,” supervisory research geneticist Mark Farnham says, contextualizing the lab’s contributions to a sector that’s worth $34 billion in South Carolina alone. Continue reading