Qi Zhou in lab holding instrument.

Qi Zhou
Image Credit: College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences

Clemson — The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Graduate Student Program provides grants and support to researchers looking to explore advances in social, environmental and economic health in farm communities. Qi Zhou, a graduate student at Clemson University, was one of the 13 students selected out of 80 applicants to be awarded a Southern SARE grant for her proposal.

The Southern SARE region consists of 13 states, spanning from Texas to Virginia, and also includes Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Zhou, starting her third year of research, is conducting an experiment to study nutrient intake of peach trees at Clemson’s local Musser Fruit Research Farm, just 10 miles from the Clemson campus in Seneca.

“My program is about peach fertilization. We are trying to find a way to optimize the fertilization for peach trees to minimize cost and reduce environmental pollution while maintaining or increasing productivity,” said Zhou.

The Southern SARE grant will help fund her research salary, travel for conferences and the continuation of her research through the next year.

“I have already collected two years’ worth of data, and this grant will help fund another year of my research,” Zhou said. “It’s more interesting than I expected. This research is very helpful to the growers and is environmentally friendly because we are reducing the fertilizer input.”

Zhou’s advisor, assistant professor of pomology Juan Carlos Melgar, is currently supervising the experiment and assisting her in the research and proposal writing process.

“Basically, Qi is trying to estimate how much nutrients each peach tree needs. She is trying to register how much goes out and how much goes into the tree,” said Melgar. “We take out nutrients when we harvest the peaches, prune the trees, and remove small fruit to allow commercial size peaches to grow. Each time we remove something, she has been doing an analysis, estimating how much has been removed from the tree and how much we need to put back in.”

Melgar has seen Zhou grow as a student and researcher over the past year. He says he is looking forward to seeing how she continues to improve.

“The nicest thing is that I’ve seen her growing as a researcher,” Melgar said. “This grant is a good example of this. She wrote her first proposal in her career and it was awarded, you cannot imagine how happy she was when she was notified. What she has done so far has been great, her research and the proposal writing, so I’m very happy that she is doing well.”

While Zhou is proud of her accomplishments so far, she said that the best part of her research has been working with and helping local farmers improve their product and livelihood.

“I’m very proud that I can actually help people. I really love my research because it is very helpful, especially for the growers. Every time that I go to present my data to the growers they always ask me questions and enjoy hearing feedback about how they can improve their farming practices,” said Zhou.

After she earns her Ph.D in Plant and Environmental Sciences, Zhou hopes to pursue a career as a professor, inspiring future students and helping farmers to achieve sustainable and economical practices.

“Being a teacher has always been my dream,” said Zhou. “I want to stay at a university as a professor of plant physiology or pomology. I would also like to continue to help growers develop sustainable practices that reduce their costs and pollution.”