Gator Bites: Competition for Clementines

Ernie Neff Varieties

Gator Bites
Gator Bites mandarins are seedless and easy to peel.
(Photo by Azza Mohamed, UF/IFAS)

Citrus Research and Education Center (CREC) Director Michael Rogers recently praised the Gator Bites mandarin variety that is being developed by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

Gator Bites look like California clementines, branded as Cuties and Halos, but Rogers thinks Gator Bites is a better piece of fruit. “This makes the Cuties and Halos taste like cardboard, in my opinion,” he told members of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “It’s an easy peeler and seedless. It doesn’t get your hands messy. It tastes very sweet and it’s HLB tolerant. So, this is going to be our first opportunity in Florida for growers to diversify a little bit if they’ve not been planting fresh fruit.”

Several of the fruit qualities Rogers pointed out are highly prized by most consumers eating fresh citrus, especially families with young children.

CREC plant breeder Jude Grosser said several approval steps for Gator Bites must be completed by UF/IFAS, probably by early 2022. “Once approved for official release, FFSP (Florida Foundation Seed Producers, Inc.) will arrange to have the selection licensed to interested nurseries for tree propagation,” Grosser said. “I expect it will be at least two years before a substantial number of trees go into the ground, and another three years beyond this before there is any fruit.” 

Grosser added that Gator Bites is a December/January fruit. “An important trait it displays is that it colors up on the tree, so it won’t require de-greening,” he said. “It has also not shown any problems with granulation, which has affected several otherwise good cultivars for Florida.”

“Gator Bites presents a potential opportunity for Florida growers to compete in the lucrative Cutie/Halo market,” Grosser continued. “There are other selections coming along in the pipeline that will also achieve this goal, hopefully with sequential maturity dates. Our goal is to have this type of fruit available from September to April.”

Grosser added that like all Florida cultivars currently available, the Gator Bites selection is not resistant to HLB. “However, it is quite tolerant of HLB when grown on an optimized/enhanced nutrition program,” he said.

Source: The News Service of Florida and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

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