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Cuifeng Hu Recognized with Superior Accomplishment Award

A fruit quality laboratory manager who tests citrus varieties was able to collect a record-number of new fruit varieties despite a devastating disease that has cut Florida’s famous fruit industry by less than 50 percent. The same manager also identified a short shelf life for one new variety, to prevent fruit growers who export most of their fruit to points as far away as East Asia from losing capital.

Cuifeng Hu was recently recognized by University of Florida officials with a Superior Accomplishment Award for her achievements during the last year. Through Hu’s careful work, producers were introduced to new citrus varieties that tolerate the plant disease, citrus greening, or huanglongbing, or simply, HLB. The disease kills trees from the inside out. Nearly all of the state’s trees are affected by citrus greening, but varieties that tolerate the disease are bearing healthy fruit and profits.

“Cuifeng Hu’s work is vital because she helps citrus growers continue their work in the era of citrus greening,” said Ronald D. Cave, Ph.D., professor, and director for the University of Florida Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce (IRREC).

Hu has for more than 10 years served as a manager for Mark Ritenour’s Fruit Quality Laboratory at IRREC. The center is part of the university’s statewide Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or UF/IFAS, which serves all of the state’s agricultural interests with research, extension services and higher education. The IRREC is positioned in the heart of the world’s premier grapefruit production region.

“Cuifeng (Hu) takes the lead each year in acquiring and evaluating citrus fruit samples from promising new varieties being developed by the UF citrus breeding group at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Florida,” said Mark Ritenour, a professor of horticulture and an expert in post-harvest technology. “Even though last year’s citrus production was devastated by the hurricane that ripped through much of the citrus growing areas of Florida, she still managed to obtain and evaluate 48 variety sets.”

Ritenour and Cave agree that Hu’s work is vital to citrus growers throughout the state. The disease tolerant varieties protect valuable fruit trees from decline and lost investments. Hu also tests the new fruit varieties for their ability to retain freshness, because much of the fruit produced in the region is exported to Europe and Asia. For example, one fruit variety will be sold only to local consumers because it does not retain its freshness for storage and shipping, said Ritenour.
“Hu’s finding for that variety was valuable because we know the fruit would arrive spoiled if it were shipped anywhere in the U.S., or abroad,” Ritenour said. “No one will lose money growing that variety for intended commercial sale.”

In the nomination package the two science professors wrote on Hu’s behalf, they note her work and goodwill as a liaison for a number of international graduate students and visiting scientists. Hu assists graduate students, visiting professors and post-doctorates who visit the IRREC location to complete degrees or participate in science projects for time segments. In this capacity, Hu assists the visitors with travel documentation and local legal requirements.

“Because Cuifeng is so helpful to international visitors, the number of new arrivals increased by 800 percent this last year,” said Ritenour. “Cuifeng is a valuable asset to my laboratory, to the university researchers and to Florida’s entire citrus industry.”

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