Struggling Citrus Sector Has Lifeline In New Variety Development

HLB is challenging the Florida citrus industry on every front. This season has been taxing for every segment of the industry. Growers, packers, processors, and nurseries all have felt the sting. Despite it all, there remains a hope for the future. Bactericides, thermal therapy, advanced production practices, nutrition, and new varieties will all bridge us to the new era. In the midst of such challenges, there is value in pressing the pause button and reflecting on some areas of progress that may feed our hope and optimism for a brighter tomorrow.

Florida EV1 Valencia hybrid oranges

Florida EV1 Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS

Early Valencias

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Two of the most anticipated high quality early maturing UF/IFAS Valencia somaclones, Florida EV1 and Florida EV2, are slated for nursery increase in early 2016. These clones are earlier than Vernia and Valquarius (SF14W-62), and have matured during the Hamlin period the past two seasons. Nurseries will be non-exclusively licensed by Florida Foundation Seed Producers (FFSP) to produce these trees. Nurseries and growers are advised to watch for the announcement of the licensing opportunity from FFSP. To assist nurseries in an accelerated introduction, UF/IFAS has produced trees in a certified screenhouse, and will equitably make those trees available to early licensed nurseries.

OLL-4 juice orange variety

OLL-4 Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS

OLL-4 And OLL-8

Sixteen and 17 nurseries are now licensed to produce OLL-4 and OLL-8 respectively. These high-quality sweet oranges from UF/IFAS generally mature slightly earlier than standard Valencia, but hold their quality late into the season. Trees appear to be more robust in the field than mainstream orange varieties. A recent report by the Bureau of Citrus Budwood Registration shows the OLL-8 gaining some traction. The OLL-8 fruit generally has high juice content and good pound solids. Fruit holds on the tree exceptionally well, and maintains quality into the summer. The trees appear to yield better than standard Valencia. OLL-8 produces fruit with internal and external color similar to that of Rhode Red.

OLL-4’s strong potential appeal to processed and fresh channels is expected to spark greater interest in the year ahead. In addition to exceptional juice content and solids, OLL-4 has been the highest yielding tree among the OLL selections. Like the OLL-8, the fruit holds well into summer. However, it matured earlier (and with better ratios) than standard Valencia in 2014. These oranges produce NFC quality juice, have good size, and offer better eating quality for cross-over to utilization in fresh channels (the OLL’s peel more easily than Valencia). Nurseries not registered to produce OLL oranges should reconsider.

UF Glow mandarin

UF Glow
Photo by Kamille Chaparro

FAST TRACK Suite III

New Varieties Development & Management Corp. (NVDMC) announced the closure of the registration period in late November for FAST TRACK Suite III, which featured four UF/IFAS easy-peel tangerine/mandarins. Seventy nine grower entities, representing all Florida production areas, registered for FAST TRACK Suite III. Two of the Suite III selections, the 7-6-27 and UFGlow, were immediately promoted (by growers) to Tier II (commercial production). Slightly more than half of those registered elected to move to commercial production of 7-6-27 and/or UFGlow.

  • Dilley Citrus Nursery Inc. and CitriSun Nurseries LLC began the budding process last month. All Tier I trial trees were budded at Dilley Citrus Nursery Inc. Dilley also started the process of budding commercial orders of 7-6-27 and will work through the Early Registration Tier II orders over the next year plus. CitriSun also began budding its Tier II orders for 7-6-27.
    Southern Citrus Nurseries and Brite Leaf Citrus Nursery have budded Tier I trees of the UFGlow, UFSunrise, UFDawn, and Tier II trees of UFGlow. At this time, it appears trees from these two nurseries are on a similar schedule. Trees were budded onto Swingle, Sour Orange, US 897, and X-639.
    • Six additional nurseries have become licensed by NVDMC to produce trees of 7-6-27. These nurseries have received their initial budwood and have started to increase budwood. These nurseries will produce Tier II 7-6-27 trees for the remainder of the registered grower pool (Standard Registration) and possibly additional Tier II 7-6-27 trees for those in the early registration pool.
    • Additional nurseries may register to produce 7-6-27, but they are limited to selling trees to the 79 registered growers until the expiration of the five year Tier II head-start. NVDMC continues to receive inquiries from growers wishing to register for Tiers I and II for 7-6-27 and UFGlow. The FAST TRACK registration process remains open for six months. It is always unfortunate to hear that interested growers missed the six-month window. Despite efforts to reach growers through trade press, radio spots, web postings, industry organizations, presentations at industry events, and statewide growers’ meetings, some remain unaware. Nurseries can help this process along by informing their customers of the FAST TRACK opportunities and emphasizing the dates of the registration period.
    • It appears more than 700 acres of 7-6-27 will be planted over the next couple years, with 30 to 50 acres of UFGlow.

USDA Field Day And Trials

The USDA-ARS team held a variety display and conducted a variety development field tour in conjunction with the Florida Citrus Research Foundation Board meeting in early December. Several promising mandarins were displayed as well as sweet orange hybrids that are — for all practical purposes — indistinguishable from commercial sweet oranges. USDA field trials, initiated through a cooperative project with NVDMC, were planted this past summer and fall. These trials feature mandarins and sweet orange hybrids that are showing varying levels of HLB tolerance. Additionally, grower cooperators have planted trees produced from irradiated buds of Jackson and US Seedless Surprise in hopes of identifying a red-fleshed mutation. Like the mandarin and sweet-orange-like collections, Jackson also has demonstrated heightened tolerance against HLB. Promising selections are moving forward, as NVDMC works cooperatively with USDA-ARS and the other citrus producing states on evaluation/trial and eventual release.

citrus variety display

Photo by Peter Chaires

UF/IFAS Display Days

The first 2015-2016 UF/IFAS variety display took place in early November at the CREC in Lake Alfred. The event was very well attended and featured current FAST TRACK selections, as well as numerous new mandarins, pummelo, and grapefruit selections, mandarin-orange hybrids, and lime hybrids. The second UF/IFAS Variety Display was held at the CREC in mid-December. This display offered an opportunity to evaluate fruit in the same categories as November, but with the addition of sweet oranges.

The January display was held at the IRREC in Ft. Pierce. As you might imagine, the January display presented an opportunity to spotlight promising grapefruit selections in the Indian River production area, as well as other fruit types.

The final scheduled display will be held at the CREC on February 18 at 10 a.m. All are welcome and encouraged to participate. Come see the latest innovations from the UF/IFAS Plant Improvement Team. The display will include a range of fruit types, but will emphasize oranges and grapefruit. Attendees may peel, eat, and drink their way around an exotic display of new citrus selections, complete a survey, and provide feedback on selections.

Variety Forum

Dr. Bill Castle recently distributed an open letter to industry, encouraging an exchange of information between growers. NVDMC held its first grower forum last month in Lake Wales. This event focused on three of the new tangerine/mandarin varieties. Nurseries, growers, and scientists were invited to share their experiences with Sugar Belle LB8-9, US Early Pride, and Tango. The discussion covered rootstocks, planting densities, nutrition, pruning, fruit quality, drop, fruit-set harvesting, and more. Such gatherings are immensely helpful in focusing our efforts to effectively address the present challenges. Watch for more such programs in the future.