The mandated conversion of Florida’s citrus nursery segment to insect-proof facilities, in response to the threat from HLB, has affected more operational functions than meets the eye. Florida’s citrus nurseries were faced with an extreme challenge, and they responded with innovation and resiliency. Though Florida’s citrus nursery capacity lags behind the slowly recovering demand, significant progress has been made in a short period of time. If pressed five years ago to predict that Florida’s citrus nursery capacity would be as healthy as it is today, most of our predictions would have missed the mark.
The conversion of traditional nurseries to insect-proof facilities affected many aspects of nursery operations; but perhaps none more significantly than budwood increase. There was a time when citrus nurseries could supply their own budwood needs from outdoor budwood sources. It was not unusual for outdoor budwood source trees to produce up to 20,000 buds annually. Although nurseries were permitted under the old system to produce mother trees of their own, nurseries also could rely on the Department of Plant Industry (DPI) for large orders of the most frequently planted varieties.
There are two primary factors that have changed the way budwood is increased in Florida. First, there are more varieties today than there were 10 years ago, and it is anticipated that dozens of new varieties will be introduced in Florida over the next decade. The addition of new varieties places great strain on DPI’s resources, as budwood must be increased rapidly to enable nurseries to establish their own increase blocks. Second, indoor budwood increase trees are smaller, and therefore produce far fewer buds per tree than traditional outdoor source trees. DPI has finite resources, and simply cannot expand greenhouse capacity to the point where it can multiply large amounts of budwood for every new variety under trial.
These factors necessitate an important change in the way Florida citrus nurseries function. As new varieties are made available, nurseries will need to determine which varieties are likely to command the attention of their client base. Nurseries must determine how much space should be reasonably dedicated to each new variety, and budwood increase must become a planned and purposeful aspect of operations. However, the movement of the state budwood increase process under screen transfers some responsibility for increase to the private nursery. It would serve nurseries well to monitor the progress of new citrus varieties, and make early decisions on which varieties are worthy of capacity.
Eye On Inventory
Early budwood increase of new varieties will enable the nursery to establish sufficient capacity for tree orders in approximately three years. The reality of the situation is that if a client wishes to order trees of an emerging new variety (e.g., Tango, Sugar Belle, or Valquarius), and the nursery must begin budwood increase from the time of the order, the grower will not receive trees for roughly four years. If the order is large, it may take longer, which translates into an order lost.
DPI will now provide nurseries with a starter set of buds, from which mother trees and increase trees can be started. In some cases, buds produced the first couple years will be channeled back into budwood increase. Obviously, there will not be enough screen-house space to follow this plan for each new variety that comes along at every nursery. Stay informed, monitor variety development activities, and start early on the ones that have the most potential for your customers. Together, we can replant this industry.