Graduate Student Studies Grapefruit Trial

Ernie Neff Grapefruit

Martin Zapien

An experimental grapefruit grove that graduate student Martin Zapien planted in Florida’s Indian River region is expected to help local growers with future planting decisions. The 20-acre grove with more than 5,000 trees is at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ (UF/IFAS) Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC). The 1- to 2-year-old trees are new cultivars developed by research scientists.

“Commercially available varieties have been grafted on commercial rootstocks and are expected to perform well in this region,” said Zapien. “In the Indian River District, the citrus trees must keep yields of high-quality fruit despite HLB.” 

Zapien’s graduate advisor is Rhuanito “Johnny” Ferrarezi, assistant professor of citrus horticulture at IRREC. Ferrarezi said the experimental grove is essential to local growers because the cultivars will generate results specific to the region. “The variety trial will provide us the science-based information Indian River growers need to make their planting decisions,” said Ferrarezi. “We expect the research results will assist growers when they decide which cultivars to plant.”

Ferrarezi oversees Zapien’s academic work and mentors his professional development and research activities. Zapien’s research with the new citrus cultivars is part of his work toward a master’s degree in horticultural sciences. Tree data is measured continually. Some of the grapefruit trees thrive. Others show HLB symptoms. “We need specific results for each cultivar. Breeders put a lot of new cultivars in the research ‘pipeline’ to screen,” said Zapien.

Zapien is a native of Zamora, Michoacán, in central Mexico. Michoacán is at the center of Mexico’s strawberry production industry. There, Zapien’s family and most of their neighbors depend on strawberry crop production.

“When I began my studies, I wanted to help strawberry growers in Michoacán, but my ambitions grew as I realized the University of Florida leads the world in citrus research,” Zapien said. “Now I want to pursue a doctorate and contribute with novel techniques and help lead us to more sustainable agricultural practices amidst the challenges of our time.”

Source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

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