The focus of citrus breeding at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) differs for fruit produced for the juice market vs. fruit for the fresh market.
Citrus breeder Jude Grosser, a UF/IFAS professor of plant cell genetics, spoke during the Cold-Hardy Citrus Field Day at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy on Oct. 27. He highlighted the most important citrus attributes that UF/IFAS breeders are searching for.
“Florida is a 90% juice orange state. Our main focus right now is trying to save the industry from HLB (huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening). HLB tolerance in both the rootstock and scion is No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 (of importance),” Grosser said. “For fresh fruit, I would say flavor is No. 1 and then convenience is No. 2. You want something that is attractive … You want it to taste good enough that the customer is going to come back and want another bag.”
Grosser said the fresh fruit market brings in more money per box sold than juice oranges. It is a higher cash crop and has shown success, especially for grapefruit produced in a citrus under protective screen (CUPS) system.
“There’s a lot of interest in growing under these CUPS structures. They are screened structures that keep the vectors, the Asian citrus psyllids, out,” said Grosser. “The trees never get infected with HLB. You can grow completely HLB-free fresh fruit, and the price of the fruit is high enough that it will pay for the cost of the structure in a few years. Then you can make good money after that.”
Grosser remains optimistic about the state’s citrus production despite overwhelming challenges from HLB. He believes growers can find success long term.
“If you combine the best rootstock genetics and best scion genetics and what we’re learning with nutrition and other management tools that are evolving on a daily basis, I think we can grow a lot of really good oranges in Florida,” Grosser said. “We just need to demonstrate that for the growers before they run out of cash to pay for trees to replant. It’s going to be a rough time for the next couple of years.”
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