table of citrus
Just one of the lines of tables overflowing with citrus at the annual Fruit Display and Tasting at the Lindcove Research and Extension center. (Photo: Audrey Hill.)

By Audrey Hill, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Audrey Hill
Audrey Hill, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Each December, the Lindcove Research and Extension Center near Exeter, CA, hosts a two-day citrus display and tasting event. The event allows researchers to discuss their year’s work and encourages growers and the public to share the fruits of their labor – citrus. Lindcove is one of the nine UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Research and Extension Centers (REC) and facilitates research for the UC system, as well as for “local and regional partners that address critical needs in horticulture, pests, and diseases and breeding new varieties.” (IREC.UCANR.edu). Most of the research at the 150-acre facility is dedicated to citrus, and at the 2022 citrus tasting event, 195 varieties and many new disease control opportunities were on display.

Lindcove Research and Extension Center’s new half-a-million dollar research project to study citrus growth in a disease-controlled environment. (Photo: Audrey Hill)

As visitors walked in, they could see the giant screen structure across the way that represents the new half-million-dollar research project to understand the difference in fruit when growing citrus under large screens. Don Cleek, Agriculture Supervisor for Lindcove, stated that there are already about 500 acres of fully screened citrus there because of the rampant disease among citrus in Florida. Lindcove hopes to find what differences in plant biology and production will exist inherently in the new screened disease-controlled system.

The seedless Daisy SL mandarin was the favorite of many, including Don Cleek, and the initial taster for ripeness.  Other displays included the Tango mandarin, which was born at the Lindcove REC, New Zealand lemonade lemons, variegated lemons and limes, all types of oranges, lemons, grapefruits, pomelos, kumquats, exotics like finger limes, and many hybrids. All varieties on display were fruits from an individual tree at Lindcove and were processed in the Lindcove packing house. Each fruit box stated, “Citrus Clonal Protection Program” (CCPP) with a VI number. The director of the CCPP, Georgios Vidalakis, Ph.D., was there to explain to guests his program and stated that the number is like a social security number associated with an individual tree and ensures that the tree is grown free of disease. His program is the first of its kind in California. It is regarded by scientists as the best way to ensure that the trees you buy, whether grower or homeowner looking for a backyard tree, will be the highest quality available. The CCPP is also working on developing disease-resistant varieties from trees coming from Florida.

Other researchers at the event were sampling new varieties of mandarin and pomelo still under development, and visitors got to lend input on their favorites. Nearby, five boxes of the same clementine were sampled, although all were grown with different conventionally used rootstocks. The difference in flavor and color was very subtle. However, some were undoubtedly different in sugar and acid content. Some of the fruit also showed “granulation,” or the effects of a freeze on citrus. The researcher operating the booth explained that these fruits specifically had not likely seen a freeze yet, meaning it could be an effect of the rootstock. Anyone willing to try all five clementines was given a notecard that listed sugar, acid, visual appeal, and taste as factors to be included in the project’s report.

This event would not have been possible without the Director of Lindcove REC Ashraf El-Kereamy, Ph.D., or Agriculture Supervisor Don Cleek. Both worked extremely hard to make the event possible and to keep Lindcove running smoothly with a good scientific process year around. Dr. El-Kereamy also works at UC Riverside, facilitating research on plant molecular biology, and has published more than 40 peer-reviewed papers. Another group pertinent to the event’s success was the volunteers, many of whom were Master Gardeners of Fresno, Tulare, and Kings County. The volunteers I met, as well as the researchers and directors, wore many hats, representing California agriculture in a wide range of plant and animal agriculture.

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