Avocados Emerging As Attractive Alternative In Florida Citrus Country

Results from new University of Florida research might lead growers to consider planting and producing avocados in the Indian River region of Florida, an area traditionally dominated by citrus. Unfortunately, it’s also an area reeling from citrus greening.

UF/IFAS researcher Cristina Pisani examines ailing avocado tree

Cristina Pisani examines an avocado tree that has succumbed to laurel wilt disease.
Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS

The research comes from a dissertation by Cristina Pisani, who recently completed her doctorate in horticultural sciences at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC) near Fort Pierce.

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Pisani studied a grove of about 150 avocado seedlings collected in California by Rey Schnell, a researcher at the USDA Subtropical Horticulture Research Station in Miami. Schnell identified the true hybrids of avocado Hass and Bacon cultivars. Then the seedlings were planted at the USDA Horticultural Research Laboratory in Ft. Pierce, adjacent to the IRREC.

“The results show that we did select hybrids that were comparable to commercial Hass (a high-value variety produced primarily in California),” said Pisani. “We chose the best avocados from the field plot and tested them for the postharvest attributes, screened them, and they were judged by trained panelists who participated in sensory panels.”

Another important focus for the research was to screen avocado hybrids for resistance to a disease called laurel wilt, spread by the redbay ambrosia beetle and its fungal symbiont Raffaelea lauricola, which kills avocado trees and threatens the crop nationwide.

“We used fruit from a half-sibling population of families that originated from the National Clonal Germplasm repository in Miami,” said Pisani. “Those plants are being screened for both tolerance and for resistance to laurel wilt.”

Although Pisani’s doctoral research is complete, she said the avocado research will continue as the Hass-Bacon avocado hybrids show considerable promise for production in the Indian River region.

The nation’s top avocado-producing states are California and Florida, according to 2014 statistics from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. In southern California, the crop is produced on about 55,000 acres. In Florida, 7,000 acres are devoted to avocado production, primarily in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.