Picking Favorites at Florida Citrus Variety Display Day

Josh McGillCitrus, Florida, Varieties

The horticultural characteristics of new citrus varieties are important, especially in the era of HLB when disease tolerance is critical. But how the fruit tastes and other consumer attributes are equally important. That’s why citrus variety display days are vital in citrus breeding.

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred hosted the final display of 2022 on Feb. 22. About 20 processed and fresh varieties were on display.

Display Day
OLL-8 and OLL-20 (fourth and fifth from left) juice flavor and color scored well among survey participants.

“When growers, nurseries, packers, processors, gift fruit shippers and marketers gather to sample and discuss the characteristics and potential marketability and suitability of newly discovered citrus selections, their feedback is important to the variety release process,” noted Peter Chaires, executive director of the New Varieties Development and Management Corporation, who helps plan the display day events. “Plant improvement teams are careful to include those selections that appear to be healthy and productive in the field. It then becomes necessary to conduct a fruit evaluation process, which the display days assist in.”

Chaires noted the February event puts more emphasis on juice varieties. It was an opportunity for the UF/IFAS citrus plant improvement team to show off their latest developments. Plant breeders Jude Grosser and Fred Gmitter do have favorites among the many selections they have developed, but they don’t bias the event participants with their favorites during the survey process.

“My favorite juices are coming from the Orie Lee Late (OLL) varieties,” Grosser noted. “We had OLL-8 and OLL-20 in the lineup, and they were superior in my opinion to the two Valencia clones also on display. And these OLL varieties grow faster, produce more fruit and have higher pound solids. I have been surprised that more growers are not planting the OLL varieties.”

Frank Giles, AgNet Media editor-in-chief, participated in the display day and concurred with Grosser. “I really liked the OLL juice samples. They were sweet and balanced and reminded me of the “old school” orange juice flavor from my childhood. The color of the juice is darker and richer than what you see in retail brands today,” he said.

Gmitter is still high on UF-914 grapefruit, which also was on display. The variety has gotten noticed because it does not have adverse interactions with certain heart medications. But Gmitter says it is the flavor that wins people over.

“We have tested this variety many times with avowed grapefruit haters,” Gmitter said. “When they sample the fruit, they say: ‘Wow! This is great. Why doesn’t all grapefruit taste this way?’”

While the variety doesn’t show good tolerance to HLB, Gmitter suggested growers planting under protective screen should consider UF-914.

There were two small, easy-peel mandarins on display. Grosser noted the plant breeding team is developing a sequence of mandarin varieties to compete with Cuties and Halos.

“The Cutie and Halo market has been extremely lucrative for California growers,” Grosser said. “Their marketing approach was to trademark those names, and under each of those brands, there are four or five different varieties that mature in sequence. This allows them to maintain their space in the grocery store.

“We have trademarked the name Gator Bites and hope to develop a similar sequence of varieties. The fruit from the Gator Bites brand could carry from September on through February and beyond. The mandarins we had on display could be part of that sequence. It would give us a proximity advantage over California, because we are closer to the Northeast, which is the biggest market for Cuties and Halos. And it is excellent tasting fruit.”

Display Day

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