University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences plant breeder Jude Grosser makes a case for Florida’s citrus industry replacing Hamlin oranges with early-maturing Valencia oranges that he and others are developing.
“I think that’s a no-brainer because Hamlins are having a really bad time with greening, and orange juice sales are declining,” Grosser says. “Hamlin is half our juice. It’s half of the NFC (not-from-concentrate) product and yet it has inadequate color and flavor to make a Grade A product on its own. It has to be blended with Valencia. So you can imagine what a boost to the quality of our product it would be if you replaced all the Hamlins with Valencias. You’re going to have better color in the bottle; it’s going to be more attractive. And when somebody buys it, takes it home and drinks it, the flavor’s better and so they’re going to want to come back and buy more of it.”
Grosser mentions some existing early Valencias that have had a higher ratio than Hamlins at Christmastime and even at Thanksgiving. Traditional Valencias aren’t harvested until late winter or early spring. “They’re (the early Valencias) not home runs against HLB, but again with the right rootstock and nutrition program, they should be able to work,” he says.
Grosser’s comments address some of the biggest issues facing the Florida citrus industry. Approximately 95 percent of Florida’s oranges go into orange juice, and HLB, also known as citrus greening, has greatly reduced the state’s citrus acreage and production. HLB was discovered in Florida in 2005. There is no known cure, and most growers have struggled to find production programs that let them remain profitable in the face of the disease.