By Rick Dantzler
Several months ago, the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF) convened a panel of plant-breeding experts from across the country to help us decide where to spend what appears to be a diminishing amount of money for plant breeding. The co-chairs presented their recommendations on Feb. 22 to the CRDF board of directors.
The first recommendation was to fund multi-location stage II and stage III phenotyping, which is measuring and recording the characteristics of trees in well-replicated plantings. The panel recommended that this phenotyping be done by independent evaluators, with the caveat that citrus breeders could continue with their testing if they used the same evaluation methods and shared their data so that data from all evaluators could be combined and made available.
To initiate this phenotyping, the panel recommended that an inventory of all material currently in test plots be conducted. The board agreed and invited the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS) to provide proposals to help make this happen as quickly as possible.
The panel also recommended high-throughput genotyping, which leverages genetic data for improved selection decisions. Part of this would involve the creation of a genotyping platform, which could be a short-term, one-time cost, especially since UF/IFAS has already done much of this work.
The third recommendation was to help provide non-competitive, base-level funding of UF/IFAS and USDA/ARS citrus breeding programs.
There were other recommendations involving improving project reporting, funding projects aimed at reducing citrus juvenility, and grower outreach through UF/IFAS Extension.
The panel thought the emphasis should be on short-term goals like phenotyping instead of long-term goals like transgenics and breeding new cultivars, and suggested a thorough review of how the entire process of breeding could be streamlined.
Finally, the panel concluded that the citrus breeding programs were current technologically with two exceptions: replicated phenotyping and genotyping.
The report is outstanding, and the panelists have served the industry well.
Rick Dantzler is chief operating officer of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation.
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