Most traditional deciduous fruit crops are not adapted to Florida’s subtropical climate which is characterized by a limited amount of winter chilling and hot, humid conditions during the growing season. Insect and disease pressures are greater in Florida than in any area of the United States. For the past 25 years we have been working on the genetic improvement/cultivar evaluation of pecans, peaches, nectarines, plums, persimmons, pears, grapes, blueberries, blackberries, cold-hardy citrus and miscellaneous fruit crops. Some species such as rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium virgatum, formerly Vaccinium ashei) and muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia) are endemic to north Florida and, are adapted to Florida’s climate and soil conditions. These native fruit species suffer comparatively reduced pest pressures, require minimal inputs and are relatively easy to grow. We are also increasing our plantings and evaluations of citrus, as the interest in Satsuma and other cold hardy Citrus species increases. In addition, the University of Florida has invested heavily in deciduous fruit breeding programs that have developed new cultivars of peaches, nectarines, plums, apple, rabbiteye blueberries and southern highbush blueberries over the last several decades. We have been evaluating these crops over the last 25 years.
We examine new management practices in concert with our cultivar evaluations. Previous research priorities have included evaluating trellis systems for grapes and spacing and thinning of pecan trees. We are investigating the organic production of blueberries and we are concluding a three year project evaluating organic mulches and fertilizers. I am leading a research team investigating production, plant physiology, insect and disease management, and economic assessments of organic practices of blueberries. This is a joint project with participants at the University of Florida and the University of Georgia
Our current research is directed towards the end goal of establishing and maximizing overall sustainability of each crop species/cultivar and management system. Agricultural sustainability of each crop can be assessed based on the amount of input required for successful culture. Agricultural inputs encompass pesticides, irrigation, fertilizer, tree training, pruning and various farm operations involving farm labor and machinery. Assessments of agricultural sustainability also encompass positive and negative impacts on the environment. Sustainability assessments can vary greatly with the fruit crop species and cultivar. We have characterized the agricultural sustainability of fruit and nut crops and have identified limiting factors to the successful culture of each species and cultivar. Sustainable crops are environmentally friendly and offer advantages to small farmers as inputs are typically reduced. This information is currently available as a web document, “Sustainability Assessment of Fruit and Nut Crops for North and North Central Florida” HS765 (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu). Future plans include expanding this to an interactive website as the database develops.
For more information contact Pete Andersen.