Knowledge, Patience, Money Needed To Nurture Citrus Research

Bobby Barben and family tradition

Editor’s Note: This Q&A feature is the third in series of six with the 2013 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Bobby Barben. The Avon Park-based grower also serves as the chairman of the Research Management Committee of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF).

If a grower is interested in getting more involved with the research funding process, what should he/she do?

Barben: Please come to CRDF meetings and committee meetings. Growers are always welcome. If growers come to the research meetings when projects are being evaluated, I think it would help them understand why projects get chosen for funding.
All projects are evaluated on science and practical application. If someone wants to get involved, read what’s been done already and what’s now being done. I think it will help you understand what needs to be done in the future. I don’t think you can evaluate the worth of a project in a vacuum. You need to evaluate the total list of projects and which ones will have the best chance of success. Time and money are the essence of what the CRDF is looking for in projects that, if successful, can be replicated and have an influence on a broad number of acres. The better informed growers are of what we are doing, the better they will be to help us find the most worthy projects.

Why does it seem to take so long for scientific research to find solutions?

Barben: I know results from research are not as fast as we all need. Nobody is more impatient than I am. We must remember the first three-year projects were just completed in spring 2012. We evaluated these projects in the fall 2008 and funded them in spring 2009.
Every fall, we have requests for proposals. The scientists give us their ideas. If we like them, we ask for full proposals. These proposals are evaluated by our CRDF scientific advisory board and by the Research Management Committee. If a proposal is accepted, it is presented to the full board in the winter for funding. Then the projects get started in the late spring or summer.
I know this is all sounds agonizingly slow, but researchers have to have labs, greenhouses, plant materials, and people in place before work can get started. And to make matters slower, some of these projects are just building blocks for the next step. The CRDF’s Dr. Tom Turpin and Dr. Harold Browning keep the research on schedule. The researchers send in a report each quarter and the project is re-evaluated each year.
If we get something that shows promise, we work to get it commercialized. That’s where Ben McLean and his CRDF project delivery committee come in. They work with chemical companies, EPA, and the Florida Department of Agriculture to get products in the field as soon as possible.
Just an example of how the EPA can slow down research: Dr. Bill Dawson had to wait almost two years before he was allowed to test an antimicrobial peptide in the field because it was on a citrus tristeza virus carrier and they were afraid an aphid might spread the peptide. This isn’t to suggest that all of EPA’s precautions aren’t warranted. It’s just that getting a solution to the grower two years earlier might save a lot of citrus trees.

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