In eras gone by, new citrus varieties would be studied in replicated field trials throughout the production areas, covering a range of rootstocks, soils, water, and other variables. Data would be gathered, compiled, studied, and published. This process was an effective vetting that would either result in adoption by industry, release for niche uses, or rejection. However, there was no impending sense of doom from deadly diseases, no urgency to the process, and existing varieties were performing quite nicely. Today is a much different story.
Getting On Track
The FAST TRACK program, a model supporting early release along with trial and potential commercialization of fresh UF/IFAS citrus selections, requires participating nurseries and growers to share information about their experience. Licensed FAST TRACK growers/nurseries will (minimally) complete an annual written survey, but also will likely be required to participate in grower-group conversations.
Although the fruit of citrus selections included in the FAST TRACK program demonstrated commercial market potential, information supporting production, economic, and postharvest viability has not yet been collected. Questions about rootstocks, soil adaptability, salinity tolerance, disease tolerance, pollination, productivity, postharvest performance, etc. all remained unanswered. There was broad consensus that grower trials and grower groups would need to feed information into the system. Doing so would not replace long-term trials, but would provide a bank of information from which growers could make reasonably informed planting decisions. Through this process, the industry is able to access material much earlier than previously possible.
Similar to selections entering the FAST TRACK system, other fresh citrus varieties were made commercially available before substantive information was known about their performance and characteristics. The LB8-9 Sugar Belle, Tango, and US Early Pride all are being produced in commercial quantities, but very little cultural information is available to nurseries and growers. In the case of Tango, information collected in California conditions is of little value to growers in subtropical conditions.
Florida Foundation Seed Producers Inc. has responded to industry demand and released new orange and rootstock varieties to nurseries and growers. Growers are encouraged to try the new varieties and privately gauge their performance. The expectation is that successful private trials will generate much of the practical information sought that would lead to larger-scale adoption. One industry leader identified the immediate challenge as showing growers that there is an interest and — indeed — an effort under way to collect whatever data and information are available, and to actually initiate this process. Some growers might want more information than is available from short-term observations or a conversation with a neighbor. How can a bank of meaningful information be gleaned from a diverse collection of private trials, scattered throughout traditional and non-traditional growing areas?