Few other businesses find their bottom lines subjected to the whims and vagaries of weather, market forces, disease and the ravages of pests more acutely than Florida's $9 billion citrus industry. While still vibrant, it has struggled to fend off a nagging citrus greening bacteria and the intrusive Asian citrus phyllid insect infestation that puts harvests at risk. But researchers at the University of Florida Horticultural Department have developed a new hybrid strain of Florida-friendly peaches more resistant to the threats facing citrus. The success of the burgeoning Florida peach market is a good example of a traditional industry embracing creative innovation. Sweet.
With a modest 800 to 1,200 acres dedicated to the fruit, Florida peaches will never displace the state's dominant citrus industry, which is spread across 532,000 acres of oranges, grapefruit and tangerines. But the fuzzy fruit does provide growers operating on modest profit margins a hedge against downturns in citrus yields. The Sunshine State peaches developed by UF scientists are slowly gaining a foothold in groceries throughout Florida. Though smaller than Georgia and South Carolina fruit, Sunshine State peaches are often considered juicier and more flavorful than their counterparts. State agricultural experts estimate Sunshine State peaches could be a $100 million industry within a decade. Sweeter still.
This is not the first time University of Florida creative scientists have come to the aid of Florida agriculture. Two years ago, UF introduced the more succulent and tastier Tasti-Lee tomato, which helped the state shed its image for growing hardened, nondescript tomatoes. The university also developed a Florida-centric blueberry to compete with Mexican and South American imports.
Like any thriving business, it is always good to diversify. The work on behalf of Florida farmers by University of Florida researchers in developing the Sunshine State peach puts a new practical meaning on the value of STEM science.