New peach varieties from MSU are expected to fill the gaps in the profile of the Michigan peach industry.

New peach varieties from MSU are expected to fill the gaps in the profile of the Michigan peach industry.

Photo courtesy of Michigan State University

New peach varieties can be expected in the next few years from the Michigan State University breeding program and Dr. Bill Shane. He has more than 80 elite lines waiting in the wings.

Shane doesn’t expect his program to become as famous as that of the late Stanley Johnston, who put Michigan on the peach-breeding map. But it represents, he says, a continuation of the Michigan peach-breeding tradition.

Johnston bred the Haven peach series, including the Redhaven. From 1924 to 1963, he released eight yellow-fleshed freestone varieties from crosses he had made: Halehaven, Kalhaven, Redhaven, Fairhaven, Sunhaven, Richhaven, Glohaven, and Cresthaven. Redhaven was the first red-skinned commercial peach variety and became the most widely planted freestone peach variety in the world, the variety that ­displaced the yellow-skinned Elberta.

After Johnston died in 1969, the MSU program entered a quieter period, during which two additional Johnston-bred Haven varieties were evaluated and released by Dr. Bob Andersen, MSU’s stone fruit breeder in the 1970s. He focused mostly on cherries and left MSU in 1980, later to became known for his cherry breeding work at Cornell University, New York.

As Shane tells the story, Andersen and others at MSU—with support from Michigan peach growers—helped keep Michigan in the peach-breeding loop in a somewhat different way. They assisted two peach growers—cousins Jim and Paul Friday, who owned neighboring farms in southwest Michigan—to breed and select peach varieties on their own.

Annette Friday, Jim’s daughter, learned fruit breeding from Andersen at MSU. She returned to the home farm Fruit Acres, and, with her husband, Randy Bjorge, bred and introduced the Stellar series of peach varieties, with the help of ­International Plant Management, a Michigan-based company.

Dr. Amy Iezzoni, who followed Andersen at MSU and is best known as Michigan State University’s tart cherry breeder, helped Paul Friday extend the peach harvest season by providing embryo rescue technology in her laboratory—a method that’s vital to producing early varieties. With this and considerable work over three decades, Friday developed the Flamin’ Fury series of peaches. Now aged 70, Friday released his 39th variety, called PF Fashionably Late, last year. His series now has peaches starting 22 days before Redhaven and extending to 54 days after Redhaven.

“There may be a few more coming,” he said this spring. “But my ­program is ending.”

The Bjorges over the years released 12 patented varieties, all with Star in their name, the latest being Sweetstar released last year. Earlystar comes in 18 days before Redhaven and Autumnstar finishes the year 39 days after Redhaven.

“The Bjorges have not made any new crosses in over ten years,” Shane said. “And Paul Friday stopped making crosses four or five years ago.”

Iezzoni starts program

Meanwhile, the stage was being set to ramp up Michigan State University’s program, to have new varieties ready to go when the two private breeding programs had run their course.

Amy Iezzoni at MSU reinitiated the MSU peach-breeding program in the 1980s, and in 1992, Bill Shane took over the breeding work.

The Michigan Peach Sponsors, a grower group, cosponsored the MSU breeding program, with the goal of developing high quality varieties suitable for the Michigan fresh-market industry. Southwest Michigan growers have cultivated a romance with Chicago, and many of their peaches move into farmers’ market in that city and its suburbs a hundred miles away.

Over the last 20 years, Michigan Peach Sponsors has contributed more than $100,000 to support the breeding effort.

Canker resistance

Iezzoni, working with MSU plant pathologist Dr. Gerard Adams and graduate student Wedong Chen, had initiated a long-term project to develop Leucostoma-tolerant peach varieties. Leucostoma canker, also called cytospora or valsa canker, is a fungal disease that causes limb decline in wet temperate climates, Shane said. They found, in varieties from Russia, peach selections with resistance to canker and crossed these with commercial varieties with the goal to obtain high-quality peach ­varieties with improved canker resistance.

One variety has resulted from the Iezzoni-Shane work. Beaumont, a yellow-fleshed, fresh-market peach, was released in 2004, with the assistance of International Plant Management. Beaumont was named after Beaumont Tower, a landmark bell tower on the MSU campus in East Lansing. The older Haven name was chosen because the peach-breeding station under Johnston was at that time in South Haven.

In the nearly 20 years since he began breeding, Shane made crosses and planted more than 24,000 seedlings, from which about 300 elite selections have been made. A number of these elite selections are in the orchards of growers and in Adams County Nursery and Stark Bro’s Nursery, where they are being evaluated under nondisclosure test agreements.

He expects, once all the patent application work is done, to release one yellow and two white selections soon, and is also working on two early yellow varieties. Shane expects most of his future releases will be, as he puts it, “classic yellow melting flesh peaches chosen to fill gaps in the profile of the Michigan peach industry.”

Most MSU program crosses are aimed at developing improved yellow, melting flesh peaches with emphasis on red skin color, size, firmness, and flavor, Shane said. A few crosses were aimed at improved canker resistance using commercial varieties crossed with seedlings from the Leucostoma-canker–tolerant selections identified by Iezzoni and Chen.

A few crosses were made for development of improved white-fleshed peach varieties that would have better size and flesh firmness like California varieties but with the cold hardiness and bacterial spot resistance more typical of Michigan and Canadian varieties, Shane said.

No naming scheme has been developed for future varieties.