Partnerships are key to UF/IFAS plant-breeding success

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida citrus breeder Fred Gmitter recalls meeting Vero Beach grower Tom Hammond about 20 years ago, when Gmitter needed a place to grow hybrid citrus.

Gmitter knew most growers wouldn’t experiment with “raw materials” – plant offspring used to identify that possible one in 5,000 winner. Growers rarely make a profit from such experiments.

Hammond took a chance on Gmitter, a professor of horticultural sciences at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Florida, part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Hammond loaned him 16 acres on which to grow his experimental fruit.

“We still have several important experiments in the Hammond family’s citrus groves,” Gmitter said. “He has been intimately involved with these experiments and has made many intellectual contributions to their design and completion. Tom was aware that the block would not generate any income at all, but he unselfishly devoted his land and financial resources in support of the greater good.”

UF/IFAS researchers like Gmitter saw some of the fruits of their labor consumed at this week’s Flavors of Florida event in Gainesville, Florida.

Guests sampled some of the produce and other food developed by UF/IFAS researchers: citrus, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, peanuts and much more. Jude Grosser, a professor of citrus breeding and genetics at the UF/IFAS CREC, cited Orie Lee Late (OLL) UF oranges recently released by UF — named for the late citrus grower and Florida Citrus Hall of Fame inductee — as an example of a donor helping his breeding program.

“Orie was quite instrumental in their development,” Grosser said. “We have released OLL-8 and OLL-4 so far, and they are being widely planted in the state.”

In addition to providing 20 acres of research property leased to the Citrus Research and Education Foundation for $1 per year for the past 11 years, Lee also provided a large portion of his citrus property for CREC experiments, even though he only farms about 250 acres of citrus, Grosser said.

“We still have several important experiments in his family’s citrus groves,” Grosser said.

Michael Schadler, manager of the Florida Tomato Committee, said the committee and its member companies have long supported the UF/IFAS tomato breeding effort.

“The tomato breeding program is foundational to our industry’s success in dealing with pest and disease pressure, while also meeting the ever-changing market demands for yield, size, shape and taste characteristics,” Schadler said. “Given the heightened competition in the North American tomato market, especially from Mexican imports, the UF/IFAS partnership with the Florida tomato industry is as important as ever.”

Sam Hutton, an assistant professor of horticultural sciences at UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, said several donors have helped his tomato-breeding efforts.

One such supporter is Paul DiMare, whose contributions resulted in the Paul J. DiMare Foundation Term Professorship. DiMare’s contributions created a new faculty position at GCREC to expand tomato breeding and genetics research efforts, resulting in Hutton’s hire in 2010. Hutton’s position is now funded through the state, but the DiMare endowment continues to further enhance his breeding program.

“The endowment gives me the financial resources to expand research in key areas and to hire essential support staff — in short, to do a better job at cultivar development,” Hutton said.

Glenn Dickman is another stalwart supporter of the UF/IFAS tomato-breeding program. Dickman established an endowment that supports the position of Harry Klee, a UF/IFAS horticultural sciences professor and member of the National Academy of Sciences.

“If Glenn Dickman had not put up the money, I wouldn’t be here today,” Klee said. “The endowment generates roughly $60,000 a year that goes into the lab to fund our efforts in tomato improvement.”

Vance Whitaker, a UF/IFAS associate professor of horticultural sciences, thanks the Florida Strawberry Growers Association (FSGA) for its support. The feeling appears to be mutual.

“The FSGA has long recognized the value of using strawberry cultivars that are adapted to the environment in which they are grown,” said FSGA Executive Director Kenneth Parker. “The UF/IFAS strawberry breeding program, led by Whitaker, is the envy of all programs around the world. There is no doubt the pride, dedication and perseverance that Vance and his team display is nothing short of admirable.”

Private giving is an essential component of producing research. Research endowments ensure UF/IFAS recruits and retains high-performing faculty members whose work benefits the Florida agricultural industry. For more information about making a gift to UF/IFAS in support of ongoing plant breeding research efforts, contact IFAS Advancement at or visit


By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303,

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.



Avatar photo
Posted: April 10, 2018

Category: UF/IFAS
Tags: Breeders, Flavors Of Florida, Fred Gmitter, Harry Klee, Jude Grosser, News, Philanthropy, Sam Hutton, Vance Whitaker

Subscribe For More Great Content

IFAS Blogs Categories