FLORENCE, SC – The grand opening of the renovated Pitner Center at the Clemson University Pee Dee Research and Education Center was held Tuesday. Clemson University President James Clements attended, along with S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers. The day began with a “Field Day” in which Clemson scientists gave updates on their research projects while attendees toured facilities.
Clemson University renovated its Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence to quicken its development of crop varieties with improved resistance to drought, disease and pests. The center also has added a research plot to focus on high-value specialty vegetable production for small and emerging farmers and is hiring soil health and cover-cropping specialists to help growers get more value from their land.
The $7 million renovation of the 34-year-old John B. Pitner Center at the Pee Dee REC includes new labs for the Advanced Plant Technology (APT) program with state-of-the-art equipment, a stronger network for data transfer and more collaborative workspaces. The Pitner Center also serves as the REC’s main administrative building. Pee Dee REC director Matt Smith said the renovation will help Clemson recruit top-flight scientists and stimulate more genetic research.
To develop a pure crop variety with desirable traits, breeders must grow thousands of crossed plants each year and scout the fields to identify desirable characteristics. That process can take seven to 10 years or more before new varieties are released for the benefit of South Carolina farmers, Smith said. Within the new labs, scientists will be able to more quickly identify the favorable genetic markers in plants without the need for plants to reach maturity. The Pee Dee REC is hiring a molecular biologist to assist in this process, Smith said. To reduce renovation costs, which were funded by the state, the REC has saved doors, lab casework and other materials to be reused when possible, Smith said.
The Pee Dee REC is one of five Clemson research farms located throughout South Carolina working to improve farm profitability. Many of these stations are outdated. Clemson has requested $1.7 million in capital funds from the state Legislature to renovate field facilities at these research stations, campus farms and veterinary lab. The university also requested $2.5 million in recurring money to support agriculture and natural resources research across the state.