Michigan Peach Sponsors has received a $55,940 Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, the first such block grant the group has received, according to a news release. The grant will accelerate the evaluation and release of Michigan State University peach varieties bred by William Shane, a tree fruit educator at MSU’s Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center.

With help from the grant, elite cultivars from the breeding effort will be propagated onto rootstocks planted by cooperating growers, and the resulting data will be used to evaluate the cultivar and rootstock combinations. The goal is to help revitalize the Michigan fresh and processing peach industry with hardier, more disease-resistant varieties, according to Michigan Peach Sponsors, an organization of volunteer members that supports research, promotion and education in the Michigan peach industry.

As part of the breeding effort, five fresh-market cultivars from the MSU program and three Ontario processing cultivars will be propagated onto industry-standard rootstocks Bailey and Lovell, as well as newer rootstocks such as MP-29 and Krymsk 86. The newer rootstocks have had little testing in Michigan but have characteristics that could lead to hardier, more intensive production systems.

The grant also will help fund the development of certified budwood sources and the data required to protect and commercialize new cultivars, according to Michigan Peach Sponsors.

—by Matt Milkovich