Citrus breeding is conducted at different research facilities across Florida. But the objective remains the same for University of the Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) breeders: Develop HLB-resistant citrus.
That is the goal for Jose Chaparro, UF/IFAS associate professor in Gainesville. His research will impact citrus produced in the North Florida and South Georgia regions.
“If you look at traits across citrus, the most important trait is HLB tolerance or resistance. That is what everybody needs to grow,” Chaparro said. “In the future, you will not grow a variety that is not HLB tolerant or resistant. It’s not economically feasible long term. Production costs are too high.”
Citrus breeders like Chaparro are searching for HLB resistance traits that must go along with other desirable fruit characteristics. It’s a challenging task.
“We have germplasms and selections that are tolerant to HLB, and we’re incorporating that into sweet orange-like selections, into grapefruit-like selections and into some of the tangerines. It’s much more difficult in sweet oranges because you have to combine that resistance with all of the quality traits that are defined for sweet orange juice,” Chaparro said. “It has to have a specific flavor profile. It has to have a specific color score. It has to have a certain sweetness-acid ratio. It’s like stepping into a boxing ring with one arm tied behind your back.”
Many growers are depending on Chaparro’s citrus breeding efforts to be successful. Citrus acreage has grown tremendously in recent years in the cold-hardy regions of North Florida and South Georgia.
“We’re trying to breed cold-hardy fruit that can be grown both here (North Florida) and in Georgia,” said Chaparro. “That being said, we have to work on oranges. That’s the primary citrus product in terms of Florida.”