By Peter Chaires
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) supports Florida’s citrus nursery segment in myriad ways, not the least of which is a thorough and proven nursery inspection program. The FDACS Commercial Citrus Nursery Inspection Program is responsible for ensuring that all Florida commercial citrus nursery stock is inspected, produced appropriately, maintained free from disease and moved in accordance with state and federal regulations.
Supporting this effort are eight citrus nursery inspectors. Inspectors are assigned to specific certified citrus nurseries based on geographic location and are responsible for site inspections covering greenhouse structures and areas surrounding the nursery. These inspections are performed on a monthly basis.
Commercial citrus nurseries are inspected for the presence of insects and disease. Inspectors collect samples of suspect citrus leaves, stems and/or fruit and dispatch them to the FDACS Division of Plant Industry’s (DPI) entomology and plant pathology laboratories in Gainesville for testing and identification. Yearly soil samples are also collected and tested in a similar fashion.
Inspections cover more than the plant material and substrate. Inspectors also examine commercial citrus nursery greenhouse structures to ensure that there are no holes, rips, gaps, tears or pathways for insect intrusion. All structural abnormalities are reported to nursery management.
KEEPING TREES CLEAN
To help maintain the integrity of the varietal material, Florida rules require that citrus scion and seed source trees be tested annually for pathogens. There are approximately 8,500 seed source trees and 3,000 budwood source trees in the program. Samples are collected from October until late January or early February and sent to the Florida Citrus Repository labs in Alachua County. These activities run concurrently with normal nursery inspection activities.
Record keeping is an essential component of any managed process. Inspectors routinely review nursery bud cutting reports. These reports inform DPI of varieties propagated and rootstocks utilized. DPI also tracks new source trees (these supply budwood or rootstock material for propagations) added or removed from the program.
While most of the inspection process is inwardly focused as a means of protecting Florida’s citrus industry, DPI also is responsible for the integrity of citrus material leaving Florida. Citrus nursery inspectors facilitate the movement of citrus seed and citrus budwood by eligible commercial citrus nurseries to other states and countries (in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture) by issuing phytosanitary documents certifying that the destination requirements have been met. This certification occasionally requires additional inspection or sampling protocols specified by the destination state or country.
Citrus nursery inspectors conduct a variety of outreach activities. These activities include:
Inspecting the 4-H trees every year at county fairs before they are judged and sold.
Performing public outreach at the Florida State Fair, highlighting services performed by FDACS in support of Florida citrus and Florida agriculture.
Appreciation goes to the FDACS-DPI nursery inspection team for their work to maintain the health and integrity of Florida’s citrus nursery segment.
Registered citrus nurseries propagate trees for commercial use (sale), self (company) use, dooryard and research purposes. While commercial tree orders have declined precipitously for most nurseries over the past three years, the number of registered nurseries in the system has not declined to the same degree. Here’s a head count:
2020 – 72 Nurseries
2021 – 70 Nurseries
2022 – 67 Nurseries
2023 – 68 Nurseries
As go the growers, so go the nurseries. Some growers are in planting mode, but many appear to be in a holding pattern, hoping for positive results from new therapies and/or injection treatments. This certainly puts more pressure on nurseries that are struggling to survive. Diversification has helped some, but pure commercial citrus nurseries are feeling the heat. Let’s hope that the industry can hold onto enough nursery capacity to be well positioned for recovery when positive field results translate to restored optimism.
Peter Chaires is executive director of the New Varieties Development and Management Corp.