Several decades back, UF/IFAS and USDA breeding programs were working in earnest to develop and identify superior breeding stock and ultimately release scion and rootstock varieties with superior traits. The pace of development, evaluation, and release was quite different than today. Many growers were satisfied with the varieties they were growing, resulting in limited demand for new material and lackluster support for variety development efforts. Hamlin, Pineapple, and Valencia served Florida’s processing needs just fine, and Florida dominated the fresh grapefruit and specialty markets. Breeders were pushing varieties through the process.
The dawn of the new century changed everything. HLB arrived, necessitating a reevaluation of all aspects of citrus production. Whether fresh or processed, all growers were under pressure to innovate. Following on the heels of successful Spanish imports, California invested heavily in seedless easy peel clementine and mandarin varieties, changing the American fresh fruit landscape. Suddenly, Florida needed scions, rootstocks, and combinations capable of withstanding HLB, and hopefully, offering new and marketable traits. Working in concert with the breeding programs, New Varieties Development & Management Corp. (NVDMC) was formed to assist in bringing focus to the process, integrating industry involvement, providing targeted financial support for development projects, and breaking down barriers to success.
Florida’s citrus breeding programs are globally recognized for their productivity, strong pipeline, and future capabilities. Fresh and processed varieties and selections of immediate or potential commercial value are being released and trialed with regularity. There is certainly momentum behind the variety development machine. The next layer of the onion presents unique challenges for Florida, in light of the perfect storm of competitive and disease pressure. With so many variety options, it poses the question: How much is enough? Let’s explore the challenges.