Momentum Building For Florida Citrus Nursery Segment

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New UF/IFAS research citrus research facility in Apopka

Since the early days of Florida’s commercial citrus industry, research has been a key component in the formula for sustainability. Growers, packers, shippers, and processors have supported research to improve efficiencies, tackle postharvest problems, break through market access barriers, address food safety challenges, develop new varieties, improve yields, and much more. In recent years, we have seen unprecedented investments in the fight against pest and disease — namely HLB.

The restoration of Florida’s citrus industry will rest on the back of its citrus nurseries. This vital segment of the industry has undergone massive change over the past decade as they transitioned from outdoor bare root operations to screenhouse enclosures built to comply with strict code. Today’s citrus nursery hardly resembles the nursery of 20 years ago. Production under screen presents an entirely new set of challenges. Nurseries must now develop systems to produce sufficient budwood supplies to satisfy the ever escalating demand. Screenhouse space is at a premium and is a consideration in all operational planning. Nurseries face challenges with disease control, improvement of soil medium, propagation techniques, irrigation, fertigation, and so much more.

Most of Florida’s citrus nursery capacity is encompassed within the membership of Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association’s (FNGLA) Citrus Nursery Division. FNGLA’s membership recognizes the need for continuous improvement of nursery practices, techniques, and technologies. To this end, FNGLA’s Citrus Nursery Division Leaders approved moving forward with the construction of a greenhouse dedicated exclusively to citrus nursery research. The facility will be located at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka (MREC). The site is more than one mile from commercial citrus, and as such, is compliant with state requirements. The facility will be constructed to DPI code, and the MREC will provide ongoing maintenance.

Initial research will focus on methods of irrigation, spacing, sizes of containers, and fertilization. Dr. Richard Beeson will be the lead UF/IFAS research scientist and he will interact closely with an FNGLA oversight committee. FNGLA is demonstrating the leadership necessary to provide industry-sustaining research into the future. Strong and competitive nurseries will be possible only through continued commitment to research and finding new, better, and safer ways of conducting business.

The construction cost for the house is $98,000. State funds totaling $30,000 have been made available to kick off this project and the National Foliage Foundation (administered by FNGLA) is fully backing the initial $45,000 in research. Several FNGLA Citrus Nursery Division members also have made contributions to the construction fund. More is needed to complete construction and financially support its operation. All nurseries are encouraged to lend their support (you do not have to be an FNGLA member to help). Others within the industry, interested in assuring its completion are encouraged to contact FNGLA executive VP/CEO Ben Bolusky at 407-295-7994.

Peter Chaires is the executive director of the New Varieties Development & Management Corp.

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