Nurseries are very interested in two new early Valencia orange varieties from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Growers need help because citrus greening has infected more than 80 percent of Florida's citrus trees, according to a recent UF/IFAS survey of growers. Although these two new early Valencias are not resistant to greening, the scientist who bred them thinks it's a harbinger of good things to come.
"Many citrus growers are replacing trees or entire groves severely impacted by greening," said Jude Grosser, a professor of citrus breeding and genetics at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center. "As they replace trees, they now have a chance to replace a poor-quality orange with Valencia types."
The two new varieties can be harvested beginning in December, about three months earlier than standard Valencia oranges, Grosser said. The traditional early-season Florida orange, the Hamlin, is harvested from November through February, said Grosser, a faculty member at the Lake Alfred, Florida, facility.
The new Valencia oranges were released by UF/IFAS in December.
"These two new Valencia cultivars have potential to replace Hamlin with oranges that have Valencia quality, which could have a significant impact on the overall quality of our juice products," Grosser said. "What better way to address declining juice sales than to offer a more colorful and better-tasting product."
Growers like Hamlin oranges because they produce a high yield, and they can be harvested before the threat of freezes. But Hamlin juice must be blended with high-quality Valencia juice to make a grade-A product.
Also, during the current season, Valencia trees with citrus greening are not dropping fruit nearly as badly as Hamlin trees, he said.
Many nurserymen are participating in the release of the early Valencia cultivars. Typically, for a new release, there's very little budwood available for nurseries to use for local commercial tree production, Grosser said. This year, he tried to produce a significant supply of budwood-increase trees to satisfy grower demand. Commercial citrus trees are produced by grafting buds of the fruit variety onto selected rootstocks.
"Considering the nursery interest, I expect several nurseries to already have large orders for trees of these new cultivars," Grosser said. But it will probably be spring 2017 before any commercial trees are sold to growers, he said.