Citrus growers are invited to tour the 20-acre Millennium Block at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC) in Fort Pierce on Nov. 7. The tour will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
New varieties in the grove are in their fourth year of growth. Researchers are collecting a second year of data for assessing fruit yield and fruit quality.
“There certainly are notable visual differences among the numerous scion and rootstock combinations,” said Ronald Cave, director of the IRREC. “I hope growers will come to see those differences and the data from last season’s harvest.”
The grove is a living experiment of more than 5,500 citrus trees representing 142 scion and rootstock combinations, some of which are tolerating citrus greening better than others. The research is expected to reveal which citrus varieties and rootstocks will allow growers to stay in business, said Cave.
Research in the Millennium Block citrus grove began with the first plantings in 2019. “Hurricanes Ian and Nicole impacted fruit from the 2022 harvest, so we are eager to evaluate this season’s production,” said Cave.
Mark Ritenour, a UF/IFAS IRREC professor of horticulture and postharvest technology, said more than a few varieties show full canopies and decent crop loads. Among the grapefruit and pummelo hybrids that performed best last year was UF 914, a seedless, red-fleshed grapefruit-like hybrid. It was developed by UF/IFAS breeders at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.
This year’s fruit harvest is now underway, Ritenour said.
The research must continue at least seven years to be robust enough to recommend the best scions and rootstocks to growers, Ritenour said. However, some varieties are already available for grower testing through the New Varieties Development & Management Corporation and UF/IFAS Fast Track release option.
“With over 142 new citrus scion-rootstock combinations, we expect that some will rise above the others and be viable options for the industry,” said Ritenour.
Macselynia Hossain, an IRREC agricultural assistant, is involved with the harvest. He said new data will be available to growers who attend the tour. “I am currently working with data that focuses on Brix (sugar content), acidity, ratio and yield, and I hope to have it summarized before the tour,” said Hossain. “For this year’s data, we will have a new baseline to evaluate the grove trees. Data and findings will increase each year.”
Pete Spyke, a citrus grower and IRREC Advisory Committee member, said only four citrus rootstocks were traditionally used in the Indian River region. “We are looking at about 30 rootstocks in the (Millennium Block) grove,” Spyke said. “The assumption is that they will replace the three or four rootstocks the industry has focused on for so long.”
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