FORT PIERCE — Curbside grocery pick-ups and high school drive-through graduations are the new normal, and so, too, are University of Florida citrus research grove visits.
Rhuanito “Johnny” Ferrarezi will host what will probably be the first drive-through citrus grove field day — a view of a large-scale research trial — for growers and other citrus industry stakeholders. The event, the IRREC Millennium Block Variety Trial, will be on Friday, Oct. 9, from 9:30 a.m. until noon, at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science’s Indian River Research and Education Center (UF/IFAS-IRREC). The street address for the Millennium Block is 7850 Pruitt Research Road, Fort Pierce, located within a couple of miles from both Interstate 95 and Florida Turnpike Fort Pierce exits.
Those interested may register at the following online link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ufifas-irrec-millennium-block-drive-thru-field-day-tickets-122165491273. Although tickets are required, the event is free.
Ferrarezi is an assistant professor of citrus horticulture at IRREC; his research involves experiments, or trials, to help citrus producers continue to grow Florida’s signature fresh fruit crop and all of its varieties. The Millennium Block is a 58-acre field in which more than 4,500 2-year-old healthy trees grow. About 700 more trees will be planted next spring, said Ferrarezi.
“We have a grapefruit scion trial with 18 selections on three commercial rootstocks, and three independent rootstock trials in one variety of ‘Ray Ruby’ grapefruit, a navel orange called ‘Glenn 56-11’ and a mandarin, ‘UF 950’,” said Ferrarezi.
Field day attendees will stop at tented information booths positioned at the head of each trial entrance. Researchers, graduate students and members of the Ferrarezi Lab Team, along with Extension professionals, will respond to questions and provide printed maps and key plant growth data for each citrus variety under study.
“Our guests may freely enjoy the tour from the comfort of their air-conditioned vehicle in a field that is fully identified,” said Ferrarezi. “At each research unit, visitors can stop, look at each group of trees and pick those they feel are the best performers.”
Each experimental unit is formed by five trees identified by a code tag and is replicated six times across the trial. Participants who wish to take an electronic survey will have an opportunity to demonstrate their previous knowledge of the Millennium Block varieties and report their learning experience during the field day tour.
“The event is an opportunity for citrus growers, farm managers, crop advisors, industry partners, researchers, students and faculty to see the early stage of a large-scale citrus tree field trial,” said Ferrarezi. “The Millennium Block is a trial to determine which of the trees will resist citrus greening.”
“One of the best strategies to keep citrus groves productive in current HLB times is fruit variety improvement,” said Ferrarezi. “UF/IFAS plant breeders, Jude Grosser and Fred Gmitter, at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, have developed citrus varieties they expect will tolerate or resist HLB. Trees planted in the Millennium Block are being tested for tolerance and resistance to HLB.”
“Some of the citrus tree varieties will survive, and perhaps some may thrive,” said Ferrarezi. “Those trees will put growers back in business.”
Ferrarezi said the field trials are cost-effective method to test rootstock-scion or a combination of roots grafted with trees. Ferrarezi expects many of the trees will die as they become infected with HLB, but the surviving trees will be valuable assets to growers.