How to Build up Citrus Strength With Demonstration Blocks

More citrus growers and nurseries are looking to data from replicated field trials to inform their planting decisions. Many of the scion/rootstock combinations under consideration today are largely unknown. In many cases, these are not the trees your grandparents planted. So, it’s only natural for growers to want as much information as possible under a wide range of circumstances and conditions. However, there is still value in being able to walk the rows, make personal observations, and — if the timing is right — experience the fruit. There is something about that in-person, hands-on experience.

New Varieties Development and Management Corp. (NVDMC) variety trials have primarily been limited to private commercial locations and public research facility sites. The private sites do provide a snapshot of the variety in a realistic commercial production setting. However, many growers are increasingly leery about providing access to private trial sites; either for security reasons, the need to maintain confidentiality, and/or because other proprietary varieties are planted in the same area of the grove. Public research sites provide more access opportunities, but production systems employed at these sites often are not reflective of common commercial practices.

NVDMC has worked with the Florida Citrus Research Foundation Executive Committee, board of directors, and USDA-ARS to develop a plan to establish a demonstration block at the A.H. Whitmore Foundation Farm (located between Leesburg and Groveland).

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This small site will begin with approximately 30 scions of orange, orange-like, grapefruit, grapefruit-like, and tangerine/mandarins. Ten trees of each scion will be planted; five on two rootstocks. A block map will be generated that will include basic descriptions of each variety, the time of maturity, and information about commercial availability.

A.H. Whitmore Farm in Leesburg, FL, as seen from Google Earth

Seen from high above, the A.H. Whitmore Farm near Leesburg, FL, would serve as a prime location to host new citrus trials and demonstrations.
Image courtesy of Google Earth

The design of the planting will be purely for demonstration, and it will not be suitable for data collection.

Once the NVDMC demonstration block is established, interested parties will be able to arrange visits through the NVDMC office. As the farm also serves as a secure USDA research site, visitor names must be provided to USDA in advance of any visits, and the farm manager also must be present. NVDMC staff will accompany visitors to answer questions and provide additional information.

It is expected the demonstration block will feature released varieties from USDA-ARS, UF/IFAS, University of California, Riverside, as well as international varieties and material from private variety programs and hobbyists. The only qualification for inclusion is the variety must have been released in Florida for trial or some level of limited commercial production. Several mainstream varieties also will be included as controls.

It should be mentioned this demonstration block project does not overlap with the excellent work by the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF) and Florida Citrus Mutual to establish large-scale field trials in Florida through the Citrus Research and Field Trial (CRAFT) program. The CRAFT project will seek to demonstrate how citrus can be effectively grown in an HLB-endemic environment. CRAFT will layer research results from CRDF-funded projects with the best rootstock/scion combinations to produce the best results. Special efforts will be employed to gather and compile data and keep the industry informed. Of course, the industry will have opportunities along the way to visit these sites. As important and exciting as these scientific trials are, they differ from the demonstration site at the Whitmore Research Farm, where the focus will be in displaying a wide range of varieties side by side for comparison and observation.

NVDMC sincerely appreciates the USDA ARS and the Florida Citrus Research Foundation board for making this possible.