Citrus studies are advancing in groves across Florida thanks to growers willing to collaborate and share their land with researchers. This type of partnership is rare and does not form overnight.
Citrus grower Tom Hammond and University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) citrus breeder and geneticist Fred Gmitter are a prime example of a dynamic partnership.
Hammond dedicates 16 acres of land to Gmitter’s variety trials and bears most of the cost. This arrangement is quite unique since Hammond is unable to sell any fruit or make money from this experimental block. Typically, growers who work with other UF/IFAS researchers conduct rootstock trials and are able to harvest the fruit and make a profit.
“It’s really a dedicated effort and an expense on his (Hammond’s) part to help support the breeding program,” Gmitter says.
According to Hammond, the partnership is a result of a family vacation in Spain. There, he had the opportunity to meet with a citrus consultant and get an inside look at the country’s citrus industry, including the easy peelers that were being developed. He said it was a huge wake-up call to see what was coming to the market, and he knew he needed to get in front of it.
“That’s when I started working with Fred and the University of Florida, helping develop these new varieties because I thought it was just crucial for us as an industry in Florida … to be competitive with the right product going into the marketplace,” Hammond says.
Another benefit of the partnership is having an additional location for experiments. Hammond’s experimental block is located in the Indian River district; other University of Florida trials are located in the central part of the state.
“To have that opportunity for more land, to have it be well taken care of, and to have it be in another environment has given us a lot of opportunities to look at more things,” Gmitter says.
Over time, the project has proven mutually beneficial for both Hammond and Gmitter. Hammond says it’s exciting to be at the forefront of the breeding program and see how new varieties are performing and the advancements being made.
Gmitter has also gained a new perspective from the partnership. “As plant breeders, we should be thinking like growers,” he says. “We need to really understand the grower mentality. It helps me to be a better plant breeder by targeting things in a better way.”
Hear more from Gmitter and Hammond in the May All In For Citrus podcast, a joint project of UF/IFAS and AgNet Media. Listen to the full podcast here.