Four U.S. Vegetable Lab Findings on Melons and Collard Greens

sweettatersIn 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

Middleton Place Farm Earns Organic Certification

mpfarmWhen Middleton Place late last year hired a pair of farm managers to work its fledgling one-acre production garden, the site didn’t just hire somebody with organic farm experience: It hired somebody with organic farm certification experience.

Partly because Amy Talarico knew the ropes, and partly because the garden was located on an unmolested patch of land, Middleton sped through the certification process, last month earning its official organic designation. The certification came as good news to the farm, which this spring coped with the same drenching storms that destroyed crops across the region.

“We got absolutely murdered by the rain,” co-manager Frank Beaty says. “The old-timers we know said they hadn’t seen (anything like) it in 30 years, so we don’t feel so bad about the lackluster product.” Continue reading