The FAST TRACK model was developed as a means of making promising experimental UF/IFAS fresh citrus varieties available to nurseries and growers for trial and possible expedited commercial production. This innovative program engages growers and nurseries much earlier in the process, enabling participants to gain experience with the selections and make determinations of horticultural characteristics and performance as well as market acceptance of the final product.
To date, three suites of FAST TRACK citrus varieties have been introduced to the Florida citrus industry, resulting in small-scale diverse trial sites scattered throughout the traditional citrus production areas, as well as the northern border counties.
The beauty of the FAST TRACK model is the speed with which these selections have been moved through the system and into real-world evaluations.
The challenges are:
• Nurseries are having to rapidly learn how to grow these selections. Each behaves a little differently in the nursery and the process entails much more than budding trees for rapid increase of plant material.
• Trees are planted in a wide range of locations and conditions. Soil, water, temperature, and other variables factor into tree performance.
• A range of rootstocks were used with each scion. Thus far, through three suites of FAST TRACK releases, there are 127 scion/rootstock combinations in the field. Some were planted quite extensively, and some were planted in very small quantities.
• The trials are not of a scientific design. Growers ordered the combinations they wanted in the quantities desired. Grove layout and design differs from farm to farm, as do production practices.
Mind Your Material
Diversity is both a friend and foe in the evaluation of FAST TRACK selections. The program is designed to enable growers to plant new material and make their own determination of performance and marketability. Trial sites are for grower observations not research-oriented data collection.
Notwithstanding, it also is important that we make every effort possible to leverage these diverse trial sites to inform future planting decisions. Growers wishing to plant these selections in the future will have the reasonable expectation that information was compiled during the trial stage and early days of commercial production. Some FAST TRACK selections will not move into commercial production. Some will fail, while others may have niche market or dooryard potential. However, growers will need some basis for planting those FAST TRACK selections that prove to have commercial utility.
Observe and Report
The primary source of information related to FAST TRACK selections originates from trial report forms. When executing a FAST TRACK Tier I grower agreement, growers commit to periodically completing trial report forms and sharing information related to their trial plantings. Tier II growers share this obligation. However, after some discussion, New Varieties Development & Management Corp. (NVDMC), Florida Foundation Seed Producers Inc., and the UF/IFAS Plant Improvement team concluded there is added value in visiting the FAST TRACK trial sites, making observations about tree performance/health and production. When appropriate, it would be desirable to record information about fruit characteristics, productivity, and/or fruit quality.
After a considerable search, the NVDMC Board of Directors elected to contract with a crop scouting and monitoring company. If you are a FAST TRACK grower with trees from Suites I-III, expect a visit this season from On Point Ag. Growers will be contacted in advance, and an appointment will be established for a trial site visit. Grove maps are most helpful for these visits, as are any notes or records related to grove care, pruning, nutrition, bloom, fruit set, disorders, tree health, stress, etc. The field scout will take some measurements, snap a few photos, and ask a few questions (having an involved party present to answer questions is most appreciated). Everything gathered will be strictly confidential and will only be shared in a compiled general format.
No information from these visits will be associated with any particular grower. It is hoped as more visits are made, trends will begin to emerge that may prove helpful to growers, breeders, nurseries, and NVDMC.
This project may reveal that certain selections perform better in specific locations or conditions. We may learn that certain scion/rootstock combinations are superior and others are to be avoided. We may end up with more questions than answers or a general idea of what needs to be explored more extensively. This is but the first step in a process to glean meaningful information from small trial sites with tremendous geographic, horticultural, and operational diversity.
If you have FAST TRACK trees and would like to contact On Point directly, use [email protected] to get on the calendar.
Do I Hear a Bingo?
‘Bingo’ is now in FAST TRACK Tier I trials and Tier II production. Though trees are still quite young, it is time to gather growers and nurseries (involved with this variety) for an exchange of information. NVDMC will host a ‘Bingo’ discussion opportunity at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center on Feb. 20.
The last UF/IFAS variety display of the season will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The ‘Bingo’ discussion is for registered growers and nurseries only and will take place in the Ben Hill Griffin Auditorium immediately following the display. This will be a working lunch. Box lunches are available for $10. Please RSVP to Lucy Nieves ([email protected]) and let her know if you would like a lunch.