Cindy Weinstein, Green Sea Farms LLC With issues like citrus canker and citrus greening continuing to plague their industry, some Florida orange and grapefruit growers are starting to evaluate alternative crops that aren't as prone to disease or other pests.
Growers aren’t looking for substitutes for citrus, says Bill Castle, professor emeritus of horticulture at the University of Florida’s Citrus Research and Education Center in LakeAlfred.
“Growers are just looking for alternatives that would allow them to add to their bottomline and provide them some diversity.
”Blueberries and peaches already are well-established alternatives, and interest is growing in a handful of others, especially pomegranates, which have health benefits consumers find enticing.“
“There are literally hundreds of varieties of pomegranates,” says Castle, who has been investigating alternative crops in Florida since 2007.
A few varieties, like Azadi, Desertnyi, Salavatski and Medovyi Vahsha, look promising. But Castle says he has not yet analyzed the 100-plus varieties he’s raising.
“We’re still in the initial stages learning what will grow here, what will produce fruit, and what sort of pest and disease problems we’re going to have,” he says. “We might have some really good answers in another three years.”
(For information on breeding pomegranates for Florida conditions, read the Web Exclusive.)
Emory McTeer, owner of McTeer Farms Inc. in Haines City, Fla., inherited a pomegranate project from his late father, Harold B. McTeer, a citrus grower who was asked by the Lake Alfred research center to help evaluate pomegranates.
The project kicked off in spring 2009, and today McTeer has 180 trees with 44 varieties on 1 acre.
He’s still working to determine the best ones, but he says the varieties you choose may depend on what you plan to do with the fruit. Some may be better for fresh market, others for the juice market and still others may have a niche as ornamentals.
In addition, the arils—or seeds—can be sold in packets, and the juice also has applications in the medical industry, McTeer says.
“There’s a couple of different ways you can go with it,” he says.
So far, McTeer has found a handful of fresh-market varieties that appeal to him: Girkanet, Sweet, Suhr Anor, Salavatski and Medovyi Vasha.