Good Fruit Grower

July 1

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Summer Fruits PEACHES Florida hen devastating freezes strike the Florida citrus industry, it becomes national news immediately, as people want to know how it will affect the price and supply of their orange juice. Nearly 30 years ago, two really hard freezes badly damaged the Florida citrus industry: A freeze in December 1983 caused $4.5 billion in damage in central and northern Florida. A similar freeze in the same area in January 1985 caused $2.5 billion in damage. What few people know is what these freezes did to the peach industry. "Before the eighties, we had a pretty healthy peach industry in the Florida Panhandle Acreage is growing in areas traditionally devoted to citrus. by Richard Lehnert and south Georgia, putting some of the earliest peaches into the market," said Dr. José Chaparro, the peach breeder at the University of Florida at Gainesville. "A series of hundred-year freezes across the southeast United States in 20 years—in the seventies and eighties— almost destroyed the industry, resulting in a significant decrease in acreage in North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. "The freezes encouraged peach pro- duction in California, which is by far the dominant producer today." The freezes drove peaches out of north Florida. Acreage fell from more than 4,000 to fewer than 500. It drove citrus produc- tion south, but peaches didn't follow. Until recently, there was little interest in relocating peach production further south. Now that's changing, for two reasons. First, there has been an increase in competition from growers overseas in the orange juice and tangerine fruit markets, Chaparro said. Brazil dominates the world trade in orange juice. Consumer preference for easy-peeling seedless Clementines initially imported from Spain and Morocco has also had a negative impact on tangerine production in Florida. The bacterial diseases, citrus canker and citrus greening, have squeezed profit margins, Chaparro said, and made production more difficult. Freezes continue to damage the crop, and frost protec- tion using irrigation saves trees but not fruit. Therefore, citrus growers are actively searching for and evaluating alternative crops. The second reason is the availability of new, high- quality peach varieties with low chill-hour requirements that fit into Florida's subtropical climate from midstate south. Breeding peaches While the freezes damaged the Florida peach industry, it did not damage the University of Florida's peach- breeding program, which had been turning out new vari- eties since it began in 1952. It did, however, change the emphasis, Chaparro said. Instead of breeding peaches with chilling require- ments in the 350 to 450 hour range to fit conditions in north Florida and south Georgia, the breeding effort turned toward finding varieties requiring less than 200 chilling hours, some as few as 50. 24 JULY 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER This tray is filled with advanced selections from José Caparro's University of Florida peach-breeding program.

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