In Focus: Phil Rucks
Rucks: “This year, growers seem to be more optimistic in planting trees either for resets or solid plantings due to the recent information we have available in controlling the Asian citrus psyllid. I personally have encouraged growers to replant due to the fact they lose up to 1% to 2% per year from other tree-killing issues, such as citrus blight, phytophthora, freeze damage, flood damage, etc. They’ve been so focused on greening that the other tree losses have caught up with them in affecting their bottom line on returns per acre in production. In addition, all nursery growers, including myself, experienced a delay in planting this spring due to the unusual cold winter. Growers were still evaluating tree recovery and loss up until this summer, which resulted in a delay.”
2. What varieties and rootstocks seem to be of most interest to growers right now and why?
Rucks: “According to the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Citrus and Budwood Registration, the sweet orange (juice) varieties, Hamlin, Mid-Sweet, and Valencia, represent 73% of all nursery propagations grown in Florida. This comes as no surprise since the Florida citrus industry is more than 90% geared toward juice processing. The Swingle Citrumelo rootstock (45%) and the Kuharske Carrizo rootstock (31%) are the most propagated varieties representing 76% of all rootstocks grown. This is due to the majority of Florida’s soil types and a combination of sweet orange varieties are being most compatible. However, some growing regions, such as the Indian River or Gulf, require other more suitable rootstocks besides Swingle, Kuharske, or Carrizo.”
3. Are you seeing interest in some of the new varieties? Is so, which ones?
Rucks: “The Florida citrus industry recognizes it has to change to better variety selections to be competitive in the ever-changing domestic and global market. The New Varieties Development & Management Corp. (NVDMC) was originally formed by the Florida Citrus Packers (2005) and later the Department of Citrus (DOC) awarded a contract to fund new variety selections for the Florida citrus growers (fresh and processed). Recently, the NVDMC has released two promising varieties, one for processing, the Valquarius [see more on page 37], and the Sugar Belle for fresh packing. Another selection available from USDA, the Early Pride, has great fresh fruit appeal. The NVDMC has even brought in a very popular California easy peel seedless mandarin with great attributes for Florida’s fresh fruit market. I’m very optimistic for the Florida citrus industry in having many more varieties for the future.”
4. Has the nursery industry caught up with demand after the void left in the wake of canker eradication?
Rucks: “Unfortunately, the Florida citrus industry lost more than 100,000 acres of citrus that will never be fully replaced. Realistically, we have probably gained back half of what we lost to citrus canker. This year, the citrus nursery tree supply has caught up with the citrus canker void from the past five years.”