Clemson University Feature Stories

Clemson professor Desmond Layne stands in the middle of rows of blooming peach trees. This is “Dr. Peach’s” domain.

Professor Desmond Layne is determined to show the world ‘Everything About Peaches’

By Victoria Witte
Office of Creative Services

The peach trees are in bloom at Clemson’s Musser Fruit Research Farm in Seneca — painting the 240-acre farm blushing pink. Desmond Layne, an associate professor of pomology (the science of growing fruit), is often found among the budding trees. While some professors find their knack behind a podium, lecturing to open minds, and some find the laboratory their most natural habitat, Layne’s domain is the orchard.

Watching Layne walk through the long lines of blooming trees, it becomes clear why he has been given the title of state peach specialist — or even simply “Dr. Peach.” His eyes never look down; his feet naturally avoiding uprooted vines, his focus never strays from trees. He is the peach protector. Reaching out to the new buds, he picks away last season’s unsightly mummies (rotten fruit that did not drop off the tree), which may endanger this year’s crop. He calculates the water needed for each row of trees. He mentally notes which trees will require exact measurements of complicated fertilizers.

Layne speaks of fruit trees with a passion that makes it clear that pomology is more than his profession — it’s his life. His ardor for fruit was born from a childhood spent among orchards in the rural Canadian countryside. Layne spent his summers growing up harvesting crops at local fruit farms. One could even say his love for peaches is innate; his father was a peach breeder.

When it came time to choose a career, Layne listened to his heart. “I asked myself, ‘What are some things I really like and have an interest in?’” he said. The answer was obvious: fruit. Fruit brought him to Clemson 14 years ago, and he’s since been ardently leading the way for Clemson’s environmental horticulture department.

Peaches are in bloom at the Musser Fruit Research Farm.Layne’s enthusiasm for peaches is helping to deepen the University’s relationships with local farmers. As Clemson’s extension state program team leader of horticulture, Layne said he works closely with county extension agents “as part of the effort to provide ready access to the best and most current information as it applies to peaches.” Farmers will contact him if they are having an issue with their crops. Layne will then jump in his truck and drive down to any number of farms across South Carolina to investigate. Oftentimes, Layne will bring back samples from different farms to diagnose, bettering his already vast knowledge of local fruit growing issues.

Knowing that an extension agent can physically reach only a limited number of farmers, Layne, along with a team of dedicated Web designers, has created a website to expand their interactions with the commercial peach grower, the backyard grower and the consumer. “Everything About Peaches” is the product of Layne’s 30 plus years of experience in the peach industry, combined with his great desire for others to access the best information.

“It’s one thing if you are an expert about something but people don’t know who you are or how to learn from you,” he said. “I know all this information, but how’s it going to benefit the rest of the world?”  Layne asked himself this question when designing “Everything About Peaches,” which has become a hub of information about peaches. There is something for everyone on the site — wallpaper downloads for those too far away to experience the beauty of blooming peach trees, recipes for the eager canner and YouTube videos on how to pick the best peach.  Just recently, this website – that is only 10 months old – was recognized with the 2011 Blue Ribbon Extension Communication Award by the Southern Region of the American Society for Horticultural Science.

The commercial grower can search the site for answers to almost all his farming questions. The ever-growing FAQ section contains detailed charts advising farmers on helpful facts such as the temperatures that can cause cold damage to their peaches and advice on how to protect buds that are susceptible to cold. Farmers across not only the state, but worldwide as well, are encouraged to send in their own questions.

Layne also helps teach a Master Gardener class at Clemson and is in charge of the course’s fruit growing aspect. The Master Gardener program is offered in every state, with classes taught through local county extension offices. County residents are given the opportunity to learn how to grow their own gardens and are then encouraged to spread their knowledge to others. Currently this class will also be offered as an online course, so “people who can’t come at a particular time can still participate at their leisure.”

Dr. Peach’s duties don’t stop there. He also teaches the only fruit class at Clemson, and most likely the only class where fruit is eaten during every single meeting! Layne works closely with students — on the farm, in the classroom and in research and extension projects — and is fostering the same passion for fruit that he too found as a young student.

“We have a mission to serve the public, and when we can provide information that’s informative, maybe even entertaining, then we can help people love what we love,” Layne said.

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