A scientist who has led Florida’s fresh fruit citrus growers, harvesters, and packers in their efforts to sustain fruit shipped domestically and to points on the other side of the world was recognized with a University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), Superior Accomplishment Award.
Mark Ritenour, an associate professor of horticulture at the University of Florida’s Indian River Research and Education Center (UF/IRREC), is a plant physiologist and postharvest technology expert. He leads UF/IFAS’ postharvest research and extension programs at the center near Fort Pierce. Ritenour also serves as Board Chair and last year’s President of the Florida State Horticultural Society (FSHS). In this capacity, he led efforts to digitize and post all of the society’s scholarly proceedings dating back to 1888 on the society’s website (http://www.fshs.org/), and now also on the Florida Online Journal (http://journals.fcla.edu/fshs/issue/archive).
In nominating Ritenour for the award, IRREC Center Director Ronald D. Cave said, “Mark earned his leadership positions. His long-term devotion and contributions to the FSHS have elevated him as a horticultural sciences leader in Florida, and throughout our nation and the world.”
Cave said much of the fresh fruit citrus grown in the area the center serves is exported to Japan, Europe, Taiwan, and Korea. Ritenour’s research program helps to identify the most current methods to preserve fruit with temperature specifications, edible wax applications, and some essential oils.
Ritenour’s work for UF/IFAS fulfills each of its three organizational missions: teaching, research and extension. He co-instructs two courses in postharvest technology, mentors graduate students, and provides professional development opportunities to visiting scientists and interns who visit his laboratory for both short and long-term sessions. Three of his recent Ph.D. graduates gained employment working in their disciplines: one for a university, a second with the U.S. Department of Agriculture; a third with a fruit grower in Texas.
Through Ritenour’s extension programs, he helps fruit and vegetable packinghouses save money and operate their businesses with efficiency.
“I would estimate that Mark has saved Florida’s citrus industry well over $1 million over the years,” said James Martin, vice-president and general manager for Egan Fruit Packing, LLC, one of the region’s most prominent fruit producers. “He teaches our employees how to prevent E. coli and how to avoid their own illnesses by washing their hands continuously.”
Ritenour coordinates food safety, worker hygiene, and citrus fruit disorder identification workshops, some of which he delivers at Egan Fruit Packing. Last year, 250 Egan employees participated in the workshops.
According to Christine Kelly-Begazo, UF/IFAS Indian River County Extension Service Director, Ritenour’s expertise is invaluable to both the industry and agricultural firms. She reported that the Indian River Citrus League, a local trade advocate organization devoted to the region’s citrus industry, estimates the value of each of Ritenour’s classes at $50 per attendee per class. The estimate was figured as if the training would be gained from private consultants.
“The overall team teaching program resulted in 4,000 training class units for an industry savings of $200,000 in the last year alone,” said Begazo.