Launching new citrus varieties can be a challenging and complex process, he says, and there’s a need to speed up the testing process.
In the past, researchers could test a variety for 10 or 15 years before releasing it to growers.
“We don’t have that kind of time anymore,” Chaires says. “The market is too competitive.”
That’s why the university’s new Fast Track program involves growers themselves in the testing process.
A similar program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture resulted in the recent launch of the U.S. Early Pride, a low-seeded tangerine developed for the early market, Chaires says.
It’s not only the first patented USDA citrus variety, but it’s the first time several states—Florida, California, Arizona and Texas—were involved in such an effort. It should be available at retail in 2014.
There’s more to making a hit with a new variety—even a good-tasting one—than just growing it, Rucks says.
“You can have the best fruit in the world, but if you don’t know how to market it, you’re not going to make a living at it,” he says. “You have to educate the consumer first.”
It’s also important to have a name that sounds appealing, Rucks says, like the honey tangerine, which seems to be making a comeback.
Gmitter says he expects that more than a dozen new mandarins will be released in the next five years, and possibly an equal number of oranges.
“Tangerine growers should welcome the new varieties,” he says. “And depending on how things work out for the juice industry, it’s always possible that some of them may move to fresh.”
When growers have the right cultivars for the marketplace, the fresh side can be lucrative, he says.
Grosser says he hopes to increase the percentage of citrus that goes to the fresh market in order to provide opportunities for growers.
“We’ve got so much stuff in the pipeline,” he says. “We’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg so far.”
Older varieties make comeback
Despite a plethora of new orange and mandarin varieties on the horizon, Phillip Rucks, owner of Phillip Rucks Citrus Nursery Inc. in Frostproof, says improving prices are helping some citrus varieties make a comeback.
“There’s been a resurgence of navels in the past couple of years,” he says.