uf_ifas_logoGAINESVILLE, Fla. — About 1.56 million people worked full- or part-time in agriculture, natural resources and food industries in 2014, an increase of about 40,000 workers from 2013, and nearly 29 percent from 2001, according to a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences economic report.

Direct employment in the agriculture and natural resources sectors accounted for 13.8 percent of all jobs statewide. Employment in these sectors grew from 1.24 million jobs in 2001 to a peak of 1.34 million in 2008 before the recession, then recovered to 1.56 million in 2014, the latest year for which information is available.

“I would characterize that as modest growth in the industry, although the growth rate was higher before and after the recession (before 2007 and after 2010), and ag-food fared much better during the recession than many other leading industries such as construction and tourism,” said Alan Hodges, Extension scientist with the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department. “Growth in economic activity of agriculture, natural resources and related food industries continues to contribute to the stability of the state’s economy.”

While jobs grew at 2 percent per year, the agricultural inputs and services sectors grew – at a faster rate of 8.2 percent annually. Agriculture, natural resources and their related industries account for $155 billion in sales revenue and contributed $127 billion to state gross domestic product in 2014, the report said.

Hodges sees a bigger picture perspective in the latest results.

“Agriculture and natural resources industries should be viewed in the context of the broader food and fiber economy in which they operate, because value-added processing/manufacturing and distribution activities are the largest sources of jobs and income and are directly tied to other major industries in the state such as tourism,” he said.

Non-food commodity groups such as environmental horticulture and forestry and forest product manufacturing are actually larger than food commodity groups in Florida, he said. Employment reflected that growth.

Employment was highest for the food and fiber commodity groups of environmental horticulture, fruit and vegetable farming/processing, forestry and forest products, livestock and dairy farming and animal products manufacturing, according to the report, which can be found at http://bit.ly/2d5xOLe.

Economic contributions of ag-food industries are greatest in in Florida’s metropolitan areas because of large-scale manufacturing and distribution to the urban population, he said. But basic agricultural commodity production in rural areas and interior counties is more important, relatively speaking, where it represents more than half of all employment and GDP in some areas.

 

Bactericide Injections for Citrus

Injecting citrus tree trunks with bactericide may help stem greening 

A chemical treatment known as a bactericide could help preserve citrus trees from the potentially deadly and costly greening disease, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.

Citrus is estimated as a $10.9 billion-a-year industry in Florida and the finding could be key to helping the state’s citrus growers and its economy. Citrus greening has cost Florida $3.6 billion in economic damage since it was first discovered in 2005, according to previous UF/IFAS studies. It is projected that more than 80 percent of citrus trees have been infected by greening.

Nian Wang, a UF/IFAS associate professor of microbiology and cell science, led the latest study, which found that when a bactericide – in this case, oxytetracycline — is injected into the trunk of greening-infected citrus trees, it helps keep the trees alive by thwarting greening, also known as Huanglongbing, or HLB.

“This application is more targeted,” said Wang said, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Florida. “It increases efficiency of bactericide applications by ensuring that factors such as light and rainfall don’t degrade the treatments before they can go to work targeting the HLB-causing bacteria.”

Another advantage: Results from the study show that trunk injections were successful in delivering bactericides not only to leaves but to the diseased root system of infected trees, resulting in reduced bacteria levels in both leaves and roots for up to nine months.

“Using trunk injection technology, you can probably treat the HLB-diseased trees one time per year and have good control,” Wang said.

The process costs about $2 to $4 per tree for labor and material, UF/IFAS researchers said. At $4 per tree, figuring an average of 140 trees per acre for oranges, that’s $560 per acre, as estimated by UF/IFAS economists.

Wang’s study is published in the Phytopathology Journal, http://bit.ly/2c6ZaBl.

 

 A CRDF Research Management Committee workshop was held on June 29, 2016 at the UF, IFAS CREC to engage growers and research scientists in discussion of post-bloom fruit drop (PFD). Targets for management and intervention were discussed, as were potential research questions that need to be answered.  The following is a synopsis of the discussion and potential next steps.

  1. Targeting Management of Citrus Bloom Phenology:
  2. The contribution of flush phenology to epidemics of PFD has been recognized for some time, as have the factors that influence the timing and synchrony of citrus bloom. The convergence of el Nino weather patterns, cool winter temperatures, and rainfall in winter contribute to asynchronous flush. These factors lead to periods of vulnerability to PFD infection due to an extended period of petal presence during rain events allowing sequential cycling of Colletotrichum as bloom progresses.

Another factor that appears to be contributing to asynchronous flush is the drought stress from chronic infection and decline of citrus roots and trees infected with CLas. HLB has disrupted normal plant phenology, and off-cycle blooming is happening increasingly as trees advance in HLB decline.  This has led to increased amounts of winter bloom (late December to early February), occurring prior to normal cold-induced bloom in February/March.  The early bloom serves as the starting point for Colletotrichum inoculum buildup.

Interventions to reduce PFD that focus on synchrony (or asynchrony) of bloom include:

  • Keeping trees well-watered to reduce HLB related drought induction of flowering. This must be balanced against normal winter drought induction of spring flowers.
  • Indications are that declining root health plays a role in synchronization of flush and consequently bloom. Dr. Graham cited observation that field trials with bicarbonate adjustment of irrigation water appeared to have more synchronous flush, and perhaps had less PFD. No data were available and there were no untreated trees at this location for comparison.

It was suggested that forensic information might be gathered from the 2016 bloom by revisiting research field sites where irrigation pH and bicarbonates are being manipulated. Drs. Graham, Johnson and Morgan should be encouraged ASAP to consider which, if any of their field experiments could provide a backward look at PFD incidence and impact among plots that have bicarbonate adjustment versus untreated plots.  Collection of data on number of new buttons as well as fruit counts might provide useful information to evaluate Dr. Graham’s hypothesis.

  • Application to citrus of the plant growth regulator, gibberellic acid (GA) in late Fall has been studied for various reasons, and Dr. Albrigo proposed that low dose applications of GA at appropriate times could differentially reverse flower induction of the winter bloom without affecting induction of the desired later normal bloom. Research opportunities in this area were discussed, and there was a range of opinions on how effective this might be, as it was stated that drought stress and cool temperature drivers of flower induction would likely trump exogenous plant hormones. Nonetheless, the opportunity exists to field test the ability of GA to limit the induction of bloom that precedes normal seasonal bloom.

There may be an opportunity to take a backward look at ongoing and previous field trails where GA was applied prior to November. Dr. Albrigo and others involved (crop consultants, registrants of PGRs) should be encouraged to review their trials to determine where trial protocols include fall GA applications, if PFD and fruit set evaluation could shed light on any effect of the GA applications on PFD.  This would require collection of data on buttons and fruit count on plots that were treated in fall/winter 2015/16.  Dr. Syvertsen will follow up to determine if there is an opportunity with ongoing work.

Drs. Vashisth and Dewdney reported that they plan to conduct fall applications of GA in a single field trial site in Fall 2016 to further evaluate this treatment’s impact on PFD and fruit set. This work should be coordinated with other plans and consideration given to broaden the field trail to more than one site.

  • Another approach that was discussed focused on methods to reduce or eliminate early bloom (December – February) on which Colletotrichum begins its seasonal increase. Properly timed application of light doses of chemicals on moderately declined trees might burn and therefore shorten the duration of petals on early emerging flowers, effectively preventing inoculum buildup.   Some felt that this could be a more beneficial approach than preventing induction of early bloom as discussed above.

Dr. Albrigo agreed to follow up on retrieving information on chemicals that he was aware of that might have the potential to burn back winter bloom as a starting point to consider.

  • Dr. Timmer offered that the recommendation to remove non-productive trees from groves has been in place as a PFD management element since early on, and should be followed. Declining trees (before HLB and more so now) contribute to the asynchronous winter bloom and are an early inoculum source, and thus should be eliminated. There was discussion about how to determine which of the declining trees should be removed in an environment where widespread HLB decline is observed and winter bloom is present throughout the grove.
  1. Targeting Pre-bloom Colletotrichum Inoculum Reduction
  2. There were no questions posed for consideration of follow-up research in this topical area.
  3. Discussion also covered the role of PFD-induced buttons as Colletotrichum reservoirs. It was noted that tests by Dr. Futch where buttons were removed showed no reduction in PDF in subsequent bloom. It was also pointed out that research in the 1980s established that only about 6 fruit are lost from production for every 100 buttons that appear in the field. Caution should be exercised in directly translating the presence of buttons to crop loss, since there is excess bloom that thins though the production season.
  4. There was discuss of how the fungus might be triggered pre-bloom to become active and then through treatment, be reduced. Dr. Peres reminded the group that fungicides are not perfect, and stimulating pre-bloom fungal sporulation and then treating might lead to increased inoculum at bloom. It appeared that those familiar with the disease biology are skeptical of this approach.
  5. Growers raised the question of what can be done off-season (prior to bloom) to reduce resident Colletotrichum inoculum and thereby reduce disease pressure once bloom begins. The discussion established that quiescent Colletotrichum survives between bloom periods on plant surfaces imbedded in cells, and is stimulated to sporulate by flower exudates. Therefore, off-cycle, the fungus is not susceptible to fungicidal treatment. Experimentally, it has been demonstrated that sugar can stimulate C. acutatum sporulation.
  6. Disease Model and Predicting Critical Infection
  7. Further discussion among the plant pathologists and growers covered the critical period around Colletotrichum infection when chemical treatment has greatest effect. In general, the period 2 days prior to and 2-3 days following a rain event (infection period) is the most effective window for fungicide application to prevent infection. Once infection appears (4 + days after a rain event), sporulation has occurred and it is too late to stop infection.
  8. A detailed discussion of the value of more accurate ability to predict timing of infection processes and therefore treatment timing was held, and Dr. Natalia Peres updated the group on her work with C. acutatum in Florida strawberries. The model that has emerged from her work uses phenology and relies on temperature and leaf wetness in addition to rain, to predict disease infection periods. In addition, the application sends an alert to strawberry growers when conditions requiring treatment are met. This model is being tested in Brazil citrus as an improvement over the current PFD citrus model that is used in both Brazil and Florida.
  • There was consensus that the Colletotrichum predictive model should be evaluated and validated in Florida citrus, which will require at least one-two years of follow-up research. There was discussion about the availability of leaf wetness data and how best to acquire local leaf-wetness information. Dr. Peres and Dr. Dewdney will develop a plan for validating this new model and application in Florida citrus, with the need expressed to begin planning now so that logistics are in place by spring bloom 2017. RMC will request a pre-proposal on this project for consideration at next meeting.
  1. Application of Fungicides During Vulnerable Bloom Period
  2. A number of chemical trials were conducted in Florida citrus covering the 2016 bloom period, and data are still forthcoming. Button counts have occurred, but fruit counts have not been concluded in most trials. It was stated that a summary of all ongoing field tests should be evaluated to ensure adequate coverage of materials and application methods (aerial, low volume, etc.) are included in the trials. In addition, the opportunity exists to coordinate with field trials in Brazil (Geraldo Silva) which are planned for August.
  • Assembly of general information on ongoing field trials of PFD treatments should be accomplished as soon as possible to determine if additional test materials and applications are necessary in spring 2017. The presumption is that current trials will be continued into the next season.There was discussion of active ingredients used against PFD. An update on the status of Topsin was provided, as well as discussion of the BCS Luna series fungicide materials and what has been learned with field use of Luna Sensation during this past season.   Further discussion of the experiences in 2016 with PFD infection centered on the confluence of environmental factors (fall, winter and spring rains) with considerable winter bloom, and specifics of failure and success in protecting bloom from PFD was discussed. The primary determinant seemed to be timing of the major flush period with rain episodes that occurred throughout the state. Those whose bloom was earlier or had less rain reported less disease.
  • Further discussion and planning for 2016 (Brazil) and 2017 (Florida) field trials is in order to ensure that all options are covered. The group was reminded that field trials are only successful when appropriate conditions occur to produce Colletotrichum infection, so there are no guarantees that a test can be conducted in future seasons.
  • It was suggested that forensics should be conducted on 2016 bloom and PFD management, engaging 25 or 30 growers and collecting information on their treatment programs, weather conditions, and resulting success in managing PFD. Field counts of buttons and fruit set could be obtained to learn as much as possible from the season just passed. Dr. Dewdney indicated that cooperation and logistics support would be necessary to make this successful. RMC will request a pre-proposal on this topic for consideration at next RMC meeting.
  1. Summary
  2. Dr. Timmer summarized his view of the best practices for managing PDF in the current situation:
  1. Pull non-productive trees, eliminating potential for winter bloom and inoculum buildup
  2. Focus on the major bloom period that must be protected.
  3. Monitoring and treatment should begin early, especially when the main bloom is progressing, beginning applications when first major bloom is coming on.
  4. Prioritize blocks (Citrovita example) for their bloom progression and PFD pressure to schedule most timely applications to those higher-risk blocks.
  5.  There was consensus that all growers need to be updated on PFD, and much of what was discussed in this workshop would be beneficial to communicate more widely. A summary should cover the details of explicit timing and effectiveness of treatments to prevent Colletotrichum infection, the discussion of lower volume/higher sprayer speed to allow more acreage covered under infection conditions, and other details of how growers can monitor and respond to PFD periods of infection.It was suggested that the UF, IFAS 2017 Pest Management Guide Revision that occurs this summer would be a great vehicle to update growers. While some felt most of this PFD detail already is present in the guide, the group encouraged that review of the PFD section should be done with an eye to update the broader issues of flush phenology, scouting, timing of applications, and other details that were discussed at the workshop.It also may be valuable to disseminate a summary of the workshop more immediately to those who are evaluating the spring 2016 bloom and PFD experience.

Although Exempt, Agriculture Employees Must be Paid the Federal Minimum Wage

 

 

 

Are you in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)? The FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping and child labor standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State and local governments. Covered nonexempt workers are entitled to a minimum wage of not less than $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009. Overtime pay at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay is required after 40 hours of work in a workweek.

The Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime rules require you to pay one-and-a-half times the employee’s hourly rate for all hours worked over 40 in any workweek, unless the employee performs work that’s considered exempt from overtime (see below).

  • Agricultural employees who are immediate family members of their employer
  • Those principally engaged on the range in the production of livestock
  • Local hand harvest laborers who commute daily from their permanent residence, are paid on a piece rate basis in traditionally piece-rated occupations, and were engaged in agriculture less than thirteen weeks during the preceding calendar year
  • Non-local minors, 16 years of age or under, who are hand harvesters, paid on a piece rate basis in traditionally piece-rated occupations, employed on the same farm as their parent, and paid the same piece rate as those over 16

Typically, growers get into trouble by not keeping and maintaining records, resulting in failing to pay overtime to employees who do not meet the definition of agriculture contained in the Act.

Employers must carefully determine whether each worker is an employee and, if so, whether they’re exempt or non-exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Incorrectly classifying a worker as an independent contractor when they’re really an employee may lead to liability for failure to pay for hours worked. Incorrectly classifying a non-exempt worker as exempt employee under the FLSA creates the risk of failure to pay overtime. The employer is vulnerable to claims for failure to pay for all hours worked.

Be familiar with the rules concerning agricultural employees and ensure your records are up-to-date. Call a representative from Highland Precision Ag’s compliance team to find out how we can help.

For additional Information, visit the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division Website and/or call their toll-free information and helpline, available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in your time zone, 1-866- 4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243).

Click here to download Fact Sheet #12: Agricultural Employers Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Steve Maxwell Danny Kushmer
Director of Environment, Restoration and Compliance

 

Florida Ag Department offers up to $250,000 incentive to growers

By Kevin Bouffard – The Ledger

WINTER HAVEN – The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is offering the state’s citrus growers $5.5 million over the next 10 months as an incentive to plant new groves.

The new incentive program, along with other federal, state and private incentives offered in recent years, aims to reverse the 41 percent decline in Florida’s citrus acreage since 1996. Most of the decline, 33 percent, has come since the arrival of the fatal bacterial disease citrus greening in 2005.

Growers need to plant 20 million new orange trees just to return to pre-greening levels, said Michael Sparks, the chief executive at Florida Citrus Mutual in Lakeland, the growers’ trade organization.

“It’s another great incentive,” Sparks said on Thursday. “The bottom line is: Growers now have choices.”

Incentives will help growers get a better return on their investment in planting new groves, said Tom Spreen, emeritus professor of agricultural economics at the University of Florida.

But the economics remain daunting even with incentives.

“Even at densities of 225 trees per acre, our estimated returns are quite low – in the single digits,” Spreen said. “I think a grower is looking for at least 10 percent.”

Before greening, traditional grove densities ran from 120 to 150 trees per acre. The higher densities increase the amount of fruit harvested per acre (yield), a key variable in estimating profit and rate of investment return.

The state Agriculture Department incentive program is open to growers in citrus production at least since 2008, according to information provided by the department. The proposed planting area must consist entirely of new trees in blocks of at least 10 acres.

The department is offering to cover up to 75 percent on the cost of new irrigation systems on the new or replanted grove and 100 percent on engineering and design costs. The total cost share will be capped at $250,000 per single grower or property owner.

The money also can cover separate systems for injecting liquid fertilizers or chemicals to balance soil acidity through the irrigation system. The work must be completed by June 30, the end of the state’s 2016-17 fiscal year.

The department has aimed the incentive program not only at planting new citrus trees but at improving the efficiency of water use in the new groves by supporting the latest technology, Sparks said.

“When growers plant a new grove, they recognize the concerns we all have for water use in the state of Florida,” he said.

The new program can be used in conjunction with other planting incentive programs available to citrus growers, Sparks said.

That includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Tree Assistance Program, which offers up to $120,000 to small and medium-sized growers for replacing trees lost to greening. Announced in September 2014, it has paid out $6.8 million so far for the cost of planting more than 1 million trees, Sparks said.

Later that year, Florida’s Natural Growers, the Lake Wales juice processing cooperative, offered $10 million in interest-free loans to support planting nearly 1.2 million new orange trees.

“We have been receiving applications beyond the 1 million tree offering, and the board of directors has been approving them on a case-by-case basis,” said Bob Behr, Florida’s Natural CEO. “This will likely continue.”

Growers who want to replant face a challenging economic environment, according to a study Spreen conducted with Marisa Zansler, the chief economist at the Florida Department of Citrus. Spreen is a paid consultant to the department.

The study shows growers can expect a return on investment from 3.1 percent to 3.6 percent for $8,363 cost of planting a new orange grove, depending upon the variety planted. Even at a higher density of 300 trees per acre, the return rises to just 7 percent to 7.7 percent.

“These results confirm why the industry has seen low levels of new grove development,” the study says. “The primary reasons that low (rates of return) are estimated is a combination of low per tree fruit yields and increased grove maintenance costs. Both of these factors are a consequence of (greening) and may be mitigated with scientific advancements.”

The study also found the USDA and Florida’s Natural programs have been effective in stimulating new planting.

— Kevin Bouffard can be reached at kevin.bouffard@theledger.com or at 863-401-6980. Read more on Florida citrus on his Facebook page, Florida Citrus Witness, http://bit.ly/baxWuU.

Food safety concerns raises hopes for future OJ sales

By
The Ledger

Published: Wednesday, August 24, 2016 at 6:52 p.m.
WINTER HAVEN – Florida OJ marketers have struggled to attract millennials to the beverage, primarily over concerns about sugar content, but an emerging trend in that key consumer group may bode well for future success.

That trend is concern about food safety, said Larry Ross, a marketing professor at Florida Southern College in Lakeland who tracks both millennials and the Florida citrus industry.

Recent research shows food safety as a rising concern among millennials, the generation born roughly between 1980 and 2000 that has become the biggest consumer group in the U.S., Ross said. The concern comes after stories about several safety problems last year at Chipotle Mexican Grill, a longtime millennial favorite, as well as salmonella in fresh spinach sold by Dole Fresh Vegetables, among others.

“It still doesn’t mean a love affair between millennials and orange juice,” he added. “They’re willing to pay a premium price, but it has to be relevant. Probably because it’s ‘just orange juice,’ it hasn’t found that relevant message.”

The love affair can’t start soon enough for Florida orange growers, who supply the U.S. market with most of its OJ.

Orange juice sales at major U.S. retail outlets declined 6.4 percent for the four-week period ending Aug. 6 despite a slight decrease in price, according to the latest sales report from the Florida Department of Citrus in Bartow. The average price for all 100 percent OJ products dropped to $6.56 per gallon, down 3 cents (0.4 percent) from a year earlier.

For the 2015-16 Florida citrus season that began in October, OJ sales have declined 5.2 percent on essentially no change in price.

The food safety trend among millennials remains in an early stage, Ross said. Still the concern appears to run deep enough possibly to change a core millennial belief in consuming locally sourced foods in favor of more established national brands with proven safety records.

“Small farmers cannot both ensure them and insure them about their food safety,” he said. “The naivete of locally sourced food sort of wears off. Millennials are showing a maturing standard. Your time horizon narrows when you’re approaching 40 years old as opposed to when you’re 20.”

The issue might have legs because it’s been widely reported on the internet, the millennials’ favorite media source, Ross said.

It’s having an impact already.

Ross cited a 2014 study on consumer reaction to food recalls reported in the professional journal Food Policy. It showed millennials are much more likely to react negatively to product recalls.

If it sticks, the trend would bode well for an established product such as orange juice, most of which in the U.S. comes from three established brands – Tropicana Products Inc., Minute Maid and Florida’s Natural Growers in Lake Wales – with enviable records in food safety, Ross said.

The first widely reported food safety incident involving OJ came in June 1995, when 63 visitors to Walt Disney World in Orlando were sickened by salmonella in fresh-squeezed, unpasteurized orange juice. Subsequent outbreaks, including a 1999 case involving OJ from an Arizona company that sickened 207 people and a 2005 case harming 15 people, also involved unpasteurized OJ contaminated with salmonella.

Virtually all the OJ sold in the U.S., including all products sold by the three top brands, are pasteurized.

Officials at the Citrus Department, a state agency charged with promoting Florida citrus products, acknowledge they struggle with the sugar content issue, particularly among millennials.

A millennial orange grower – Kyle Story, 34, an executive in his family’s Lake Wales citrus company – said he talks to his cohorts all the time about their concerns about sugar and OJ.

“I tell them a serving size (eight ounces) of orange juice dwarfs any fruit juice you can buy in terms of vitamin C, folic acid and potassium,” Story said. “As a grower, I’m telling my story and the benefits of orange juice, and however they want to take it, it’s a true story.”

Story agreed he and other millennials prefer locally sourced products and, if not available, at least U.S. products. That’s because millennials are more interested than past generations about where their food comes from and how it contributes to health.

“I think locally grown, knowing where a product comes from and doing the research, that’s a trend that will continue,” he said.

Story, who has a 4-month-old son, agreed with Ross that the food safety issue is becoming relevant with older millennials starting families and that OJ can take advantage of it.

“As a product, we go above and beyond any law today as far as food safety goes,” he said. “You cannot lose public trust in what you’re producing.”

The Citrus Department report also showed sales of grapefruit juice, also primarily a Florida product, performing better than OJ.

Sales for the four weeks ending Aug. 6, sales of 100 percent grapefruit juice declined just 1 percent on a 1.4 percent decline in price to an average $7.38 per gallon during that period. For the 2015-16 season, U.S. grapefruit juice sales have declined 3.4 percent on a flat price.

With less than two months remaining in the season, juice processors have sold 398 million gallons of orange juice at U.S. supermarkets and other retail outlets and 12.25 million gallons of grapefruit juice.

— Kevin Bouffard can be reached at kevin.bouffard@theledger.com or at 863-401-6980. Read more on Florida citrus on his Facebook page, Florida Citrus Witness, http://bit.ly/baxWuU.

UF Researchers Improving Mandarins

In their quest to develop higher quality mandarins, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers are zeroing in on the traits that will help them breed the best fruit.  Last year, they released the mandarin cultivar currently known as ‘7-6-27,’ which UF/IFAS researchers say is soaring with interest, and with more than 100,000 trees already ordered.

In a newly published study, Fred Gmitter, a UF/IFAS horticultural sciences professor, and his colleagues, including doctoral student Yuan Yu, found genetic markers for fruit quality traits that will be useful in future cultivar-breeding efforts. Scientists wanted to know whether, for example, genetic markers – or “signposts,” as Gmitter calls them — for qualitative and quantitative traits in one group of mandarins lined up with these traits in other mandarins. Qualitative traits would be such things as peel or flesh color, while quantitative traits would include weight, size or shape.

In this study, the markers developed in one mandarin family predicted the fruit quality traits in 13 other unrelated varieties, Gmitter said. Without this process, researchers might have had to plant and grow 250 or more trees to maturity — a process that takes several years — to find a single one that has all the genetic characteristics they want in a new variety, Gmitter said. The study’s findings translate to good news for consumers and growers, he said.  “Better fruit for consumers, from Florida growers, for a longer period of time,” said Gmitter, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Florida. “Though growers will still have to wait for the new varieties to be selected, we will be producing even better ones than if we didn’t have these markers to use.”

The fruit – popularly known as tangerines — might even be less expensive because it’s closer to the market – not importing from Spain or trucking them across the country from California, Gmitter said. That would be helpful to Florida growers and consumers because amid the steady increase of fresh mandarin consumption—1.39 pound per capita in 1991 to 4.17 pounds in 2012 — Florida’s share of the market has decreased. California now dominates the market, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

In addition to cutting costs, Gmitter can already see another potential advantage to using genetic markers to breed better mandarins in the future. “Imagine if we could also develop markers for phytonutrients, those things in the citrus fruit that improve human health; we could then breed simultaneously for better-looking, better-tasting, and healthier mandarins,” he said.

The study is published in the journal Tree Genetics and Genomes, http://bit.ly/2avr6w3.