CITRUS NURSERY SOURCE: What Florida Citrus Growers Are Talking About

Daniel CooperCitrus Nursery Source

Growers had the opportunity to converse over dinner after the Florida Citrus Show.

By Peter Chaires

When June rolls around, the last of the oranges are generally coming in and it’s time to reassess what worked and identify areas for improvement. Research-based entities are making every effort to steer dollars to where they will have the most immediate impact. The name of the game right now is capacity preservation. We must do what is necessary to maintain capacity in all four legs of the stool (growers, processors, packers and nurseries). Through the recent International Research Conference on Huanglongbing, the Florida Citrus Show and the Florida Citrus Growers’ Institute, some consistent themes are permeating the conversation. We are hearing a range of optimism and frustration. Let’s listen in.


The top topics of the day that seem to frame growers’ reality include the following:

  • Groves are being pushed left and right as some growers have reached the end of their rope. For-sale signs foretell the obvious. This land is going to alternate uses which are not likely agriculture.
  • New citrus plantings are dotting the landscape, with little ghost-like individual protective covers. The plan is to move the trees to injection therapies two or three years down the road.
  • Citrus under protective screen (CUPS) investment continues. Construction is full steam ahead. CUPS fruit is now being harvested, packed and enjoyed in retails channels. It’s a beautiful thing. Grapefruit is currently king in CUPS, but other scions are being tested.
  • Promising selections are being identified for the commercial juice stream and moving rapidly into the next stage of lab and field evaluations. Processors are closely engaged in this undertaking. 
  • As if often the case in citrus, data can drive planting and caretaking decisions, but many of the practical solutions are developed in the field. Results of injection therapies are reportedly inconsistent from grower to grower. Growers are sharing notes about timing, methods, devices, products, etc. to ensure maximum effect. It’s taking some time for this to settle out.

Many growers are expressing apprehension about what to plant. This is particularly true with small growers. They aren’t sure that they can make it with fruit for processing on a small scale but lack confidence with many fresh fruit options. What to do? Data on varietal response to injection therapies seems very important to this group. Growers seek data for mainline varieties and selections in the breeding pipelines.

Apprehension over what to plant is further pressuring nurseries. Nursery capacity is a key component of industry recovery. There is concern that Florida may lose a significant percentage of nurseries this summer. Production of trees for homeowners and supplemental business such as avocado, bamboo, etc. help, but citrus order recovery is badly needed. 


\Grapefruit has long been a preeminent Florida citrus crop. Frankly, the industry has made very little progress with grapefruit in an HLB-endemic environment. Some outstanding quality grapefruit and grapefruit hybrids have been developed, but we lack the home-run variety with reliable tolerance, quality and productivity.

Innovative growers have learned how to move forward with new plantings, to maintain acceptable profitability and to continue to supply key markets. However, more needs to be done to support the grapefruit segment — and soon. Efforts to recreate the grapefruit have made progress, with fruit showing varying levels of tolerance, productivity, size, shape and flavor. But we still don’t have something ready for primetime yet.

Grapefruit will be included in gene editing and transformation efforts, but conventional breeding must keep the pedal to the metal as well. We don’t know where the solution will come from, so all hands are on deck for this important segment. Stay tuned.


Several breeding programs are moving forward with efforts to introgress high HLB tolerance or resistance into commercial citrus. This work is moving faster than originally expected, but results can’t emerge quickly enough. This approach shows promise with a range of fruit types.

The industry’s widespread adoption of trunk-injection methodology opened the door for the Grove First program. This project, funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, is led by Michelle Heck and Randy Niedz with a team of U.S. Department of Agriculture colleagues and University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences collaborators. Program updates were recently presented at the HLB conference in California. Researchers are seeking and testing compounds that produce big positive effects in trees and crops. There is an emphasis on compounds that will require little or no regulatory scrutiny.

The fact that oxytetracycline products cannot be applied for three years in a row leaves growers desperate for something they can confidently apply in the third year. The fact that some of the compounds tested have shown a very positive response is encouraging. The research team knows the timeline and is charging hard to meet the window.

An update on a new product was presented at the HLB conference. Amazon AgroSciences will be marketing N-acetylcysteine (NAC) for use in agriculture, specifically citrus. The company reports that it neutralizes bacterial colonies causing citrus canker and citrus variegated chlorosis. The product also reportedly serves as a “de-clogger” for HLB-affected trees. It essentially unblocks vessels, enabling more effective uptake and distribution of nutrients.

NAC is not being promoted as a cure, but rather as a tool. There is much more to learn and testing to be done, but this has fueled some coffee-shop conversation and interest in Florida trials. Stay tuned for more information on this one.

Peter Chaires is the executive director of the New Varieties Development and Management Corp.

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