Grower Partnerships Are Key to UF/IFAS Plant-Breeding Success

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University of Florida (UF) citrus breeder Fred Gmitter recalls meeting Vero Beach grower Tom Hammond about 20 years ago, when Gmitter needed a place to grow hybrid citrus.

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Fred Gmitter

Gmitter knew most growers wouldn’t experiment with “raw materials” – plant offspring used to identify that possible one in 5,000 winner. Growers rarely make a profit from such experiments.

Hammond took a chance on Gmitter, a professor of horticultural sciences at the Citrus Research and Education Center (CREC) in Lake Alfred, Florida, part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS). Hammond loaned him 16 acres on which to grow his experimental fruit.

“We still have several important experiments in the Hammond family’s citrus groves,” Gmitter said. “He has been intimately involved with these experiments and has made many intellectual contributions to their design and completion. Tom was aware that the block would not generate any income at all, but he unselfishly devoted his land and financial resources in support of the greater good.”

UF/IFAS researchers like Gmitter saw some of the fruits of their labor consumed at this week’s Flavors of Florida event in Gainesville, Florida.

Jude Grosser

Guests sampled some of the produce and other food developed by UF/IFAS researchers: citrus, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, peanuts and much more. Jude Grosser, a professor of citrus breeding and genetics at the UF/IFAS CREC, cited Orie Lee Late (OLL) UF oranges recently released by UF — named for the late citrus grower and Florida Citrus Hall of Fame inductee — as an example of a donor helping his breeding program.

“Orie was quite instrumental in their development,” Grosser said. “We have released OLL-8 and OLL-4 so far, and they are being widely planted in the state.”

In addition to providing 20 acres of research property leased to the Citrus Research and Education Foundation for $1 per year for the past 11 years, Lee also provided a large portion of his citrus property for CREC experiments, even though he only farmed about 250 acres of citrus, Grosser said.

“We still have several important experiments in his family’s citrus groves,” Grosser said.

By Brad Buck, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

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