Nurseryman and citrus grower Phil Rucks was one of several industry members offering input on the Fast Track program on January 5 at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred. Fast Track lets citrus growers and nurseries access experimental University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) fresh citrus selections much earlier than was previously possible. Among issues that growers suggested be addressed are the royalties that growers pay for Fast Track trees. A key nursery issue was growers committing to buy Fast Track trees but then not buying them from nurseries. Rucks addresses both concerns, and also tells why Fast Track is necessary.
“Fast Track’s something we have to have in the industry as a control mechanism,” Rucks says. But he adds that Fast Track standards need to be modified “because of the HLB crisis we’re in. And we know that; that’s why we’re here today.”
Rucks addresses growers committing to Fast Track but then not buying the trees from nurseries: “There’s some factors that are legitimate. Some growers are struggling to just stay in business. They just have made a decision not to pursue and go forward with it, so that’s understandable.” On the other hand, he says, some growers just can’t make up their mind what trees to plant. “They’re probably waiting for the next best thing to come out … But that comes at a cost to the nursery, which I don’t think is fair.” He says some growers may have committed to seedy selections and decided not to buy them when the seedless varieties preferred by consumers became available under Fast Track.
Some growers at the meeting were unhappy at having to pay as much as $2.75 in royalty fees for each Fast Track tree. That royalty fee comes on top of nursery charges of $8 or more per tree. Rucks suggests Fast Track establish a price “that’s going to be fair to the grower and to the breeder and to the university that developed it, or whoever else developed it.” He suggests that reducing the royalty fee might increase the volume of trees sold and bring in as much total royalty revenue as the higher fee would produce. He also suggests that growers might be allowed to pay a fraction of the royalty fee up front, then pay more gradually as trees come into production. That action might lead to growers planting more trees, he says.
“Fast Track is necessary,” Rucks concludes. “It puts more risks on the grower, but … we don’t have to wait a 10- or 15-year period for that (selection) to be fully evaluated … We (growers) can’t wait. We don’t have that time element to wait 10 or 15 years. We’re running out of time. There’s better varieties that are being developed that are more HLB tolerant and maybe even resistant one day, and we can’t wait 10 or 15 years; we’ll be out of business. So the growers have taken on that responsibility and that risk to do that (evaluate selections) … But you have to have a control mechanism” and Fast Track is the mechanism. He adds that the industry knew Fast Track would need to be modified. “That’s what we’re doing. So I think it’s all good. It’s a win-win for all of us.”
No actions were taken at Thursday’s meeting. The meeting was hosted by New Varieties Development & Management Corp. (NVDMC) Executive Director Peter Chaires. It was attended by approximately 45 people, mostly growers, nurserymen, researchers and citrus association executives. Fast Track was co-developed by NVDMC, UF/IFAS and Florida Foundation Seed Producers Inc.
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