Sugar Belle has better flavor and color than minneolas, he says, and is tolerant of Alternaria, a fungal disease to which minneolas are susceptible. It can produce fruit with or without seeds.
“It receives the highest scores in our consumer taste tests,” he adds.
Another selection is a hybrid that’s one-third mandarin and two-thirds orange.
“It looks like a very well-colored navel orange,” Gmitter says. “It even has a typical navel on most of the fruit.”
The cultivar is red-orange inside and out and has a higher Brix level (14 to 16 degrees) than typical Florida navels (10 to 11 degrees).
In addition, three new fall-ripening mandarins developed by the university should be available within a couple of years, says Jose Chaparro, professor of fruit tree breeding in the horticultural sciences department at Gainesville.
The seedless varieties are in the process of being certified disease free by Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, he says. Budwood should be released by May, and the new varieties will be put into the university’s Fast Track program.
Plants should be available to growers for testing within 18 months after that.
The easy-peel varieties, which will be patented, have zipper skin, firm flesh, a bright orange peel, and they are completely seedless, Chaparro says.
Phillip Rucks, owner of Phillip Rucks Citrus Nursery Inc. in Frostproof, does a lot of test planting for growers and is eager to see the new varieties, one of which, he says, could come on as early as August.
“Nobody has fruit in August,” he says.
He also likes some California easy-peelers that are being tested in Florida, including Yosemite Gold, Shasta, Tahoe and Gold Nugget.
There’s also the just-released Kishu, which is small—the size of a silver dollar—seedless, “sweet as sugar” and a great novelty for kids. It’s available in early fall.
New orange varieties
Work also continues to develop orange varieties, especially early and late navels that will help growers extend their seasons, says Peter Chaires, executive director of the Maitland-based New Varieties Development Corp.
New Varieties currently is testing an early-maturing valencia for processors that may have some fresh applications.
Another new variety, the Valquarius orange developed by Grosser, “will give processors March valencia quality in January,” Chaires says.