Generous donation allows UF/IFAS much-needed citrus field research acreage
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A Polk County architect-turned-citrus grower’s decision to allow researchers to use 100 acres of land has given the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences a much-needed boost in the battle against deadly citrus greening.
Located around Polk County, the donation – a combination of older and recent gifts from grower Jim Hughes, who died earlier this month – increases the UF Citrus Research and Education Center’s available field-trial research space by about 50 percent, said Jackie Burns, the center’s director.
The Lake Alfred center has about 70 acres of citrus, but it’s not nearly enough space to accommodate all of the field experiments researchers want to conduct, she said.
“With this extra 100 acres, it will greatly accelerate what we can do,” Burns said. “Right now, we simply don’t have enough space. The beauty of having this wonderful donation is that it will allow us to do these experiments on a much larger, commercial scale.”
Researchers plan production-system experiments at a couple of the locations, she said, to study citrus irrigation and fertilizer needs. But they also have plans for field trials of citrus rootstock that has shown promising tolerance to the citrus greening bacterium.
Citrus greening has cost Florida’s economy an estimated $4.54 billion in lost revenues and 8,257 jobs since 2006 by reducing orange juice production, UF/IFAS studies have found. First detected in Florida in 2005, greening causes citrus trees to drop fruit prematurely and eventually kills them.
Another of the donated tracts will house a thermotherapy study, in which scientists will treat citrus trees with high temperatures to try to rid them of greening, Burns said.
Earlier this summer, Hughes, whose father and grandfather were Polk County citrus growers, said growers have always faced adversity from freezes or other diseases, such as citrus canker. Sometimes, he said, as in the aftermath of the 1989 freezes, a hard-working grower could manage to get by.
“This greening … it’s got to have a scientific solution. Working harder isn’t going to cut it,” he said. “The solution is going to have to come from the Ph.D.’s in the ag department and at IFAS. Greening is serious, serious stuff.”
Hughes, who had leukemia, arranged to leave his substantial estate to the University of Florida, in part, he said, because a faculty member and mentor in UF’s architecture school often told him that those lucky enough to receive a good education should “give back,” and partly because he wanted to ensure a solid future for the Haines City Citrus Growers Association.
Besides the land that will be used to conduct research, Hughes’ estate will be used to create an endowment to help fund future citrus research. The amount it will generate is not yet known.
The Haines City CGA is the state’s second-oldest citrus cooperative and has a long history of working closely with UF/IFAS citrus researchers.
Hughes’ gift showed impressive foresight, said Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
“Jim Hughes was an extremely generous man and we will always be grateful for his gift to UF/IFAS,” Payne said.