Many citrus growers want to replant their groves that are withering because of greening. But they need field data to know which varieties to plant.
Gathering that information takes time. As a rule, though, it takes 15 to 20 years to develop a new citrus variety and get data on how it will perform in the field before it is released for public sale, said Michael Rogers, director of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Citrus Research and Education Center.
“With citrus greening putting pressure on growers, UF/IFAS has been urged to release new varieties sooner rather than later, and oftentimes we don’t have data from replicated field trials in different growing areas of the state to help support the planting decisions when some of the new varieties are being released,” he said.
To speed the field data collection process, Rogers is looking for a new faculty member — a citrus plant improvement specialist. The sooner the plants are in the fields, the quicker growers will know whether the cultivars grow well, he said.
“New citrus varieties with increased tolerance to citrus greening disease are critically important for the long-term survival of our industry,” Rogers said. “As we have looked at how we can increase our efforts in generating more field trial data to support the release of new varieties, one thing that became obvious was a major hole in the UF/IFAS citrus plant improvement program that was created when Dr. Bill Castle retired.”
Castle’s role in the plant-improvement program included supervising large-scale field trials — especially those involving rootstocks — the part of the citrus plant that lies below the ground.
Administrators at UF/IFAS recognized the need to fill this important role, Rogers said. UF/IFAS expects to be interviewing candidates later this fall and hopes to fill the position as soon as possible in 2020.
Rogers thanked Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and head of UF/IFAS, and Robert Gilbert, dean of UF/IFAS Research, for agreeing to fund the position, which is now being advertised.
“As we continue to help our citrus growers through every means possible, we recognize the need to ensure new varieties are greening tolerant, and that’s why we see an urgent need to fill this critical position,” Payne said. “Field data support lab data, giving growers more confidence in the varieties UF/IFAS releases.”
“This position will be crucial to continue our strong collaboration with the Florida citrus industry,” added Gilbert. “It will also allow for overlap and mentoring within the world-class citrus breeding programs of Drs. Fred Gmitter and Jude Grosser.”