FORT PIERCE, Fla. — New citrus cultivars could be the future for food production, believes one University of Florida/IFAS graduate student.
Consider the obstacles that stand in the way of citrus production in Florida: Citrus greening, climate change and devastating insects. Martin Zapien is looking to the future to combat these challenges.
Zapien’s research takes place at the Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC) in Fort Pierce, Florida.
It is the heart of Florida’s premier grapefruit crop production region. Zapien is a native of Zamora Michoacán, in central Mexico. Like Fort Pierce, Michoacán is at the center of Mexico’s strawberry production industry. There, Zapien’s family and most of their neighbors depend on strawberry crop production. But he sees a decline in the industry there.
“Here, in the Indian River District, citrus was once a prosperous industry,” said Zapien. “We have the same situation in central Mexico with strawberries — the crops are in decline because of plant diseases.”
All of the more than 5,000 trees in the 20-acre UF/IFAS citrus research grove range from one-to-two-years-old. Each tree is a new cultivar developed by research scientists.
The new cultivars are what both researchers and growers believe will reveal which trees to plant in the local region. Zapien calls the experimental grove he planted for his master’s studies “the largest and more comprehensive grapefruit variety performance trial” in the Indian River District, a region renowned for the world’s highest quality grapefruit.
“Commercially available varieties have been grafted on commercial rootstocks and are expected to perform well in this region,” said Zapien. “In the Indian River District, the citrus trees must keep yields of high-quality fruit despite HLB.”
Zapien’s graduate advisor is Rhuanito “Johnny” Ferrarezi, assistant professor of citrus horticulture at IRREC. Ferrarezi said the experimental grove is essential to local growers because the cultivars will generate results specific to the region.
“The variety trial will provide us the science-based information Indian River growers need to make their planting decisions,” said Ferrarezi. “We expect the research results will assist growers when they decide which cultivars to plant.”