A breeding program three decades in the making is starting to pay off for Wm. G. Roe & Sons Inc.

“We are excited about our patented new varieties of tangerines,” said Quentin Roe, president of Noble Worldwide, the sales division of Winter Haven, Fla.-based Wm. G. Roe & Sons Inc.

“The coming years look very promising for our company and our customers.”

Roe was on a sales call, peddling Florida tangerines, about 30 years ago when some of the earliest shipments of Spanish clementines arrived in New York.

A customer offered Roe a sample of the import, and he knew the new product was going to pose a challenge for domestic growers.

“I thought, ‘That’s really good,’” he recalled. “‘That’s going to kick our butts.’”

Roe went home to his family business and cautioned them that “We’re going to get stepped on hard.”

Roe approached Florida’s citrus breeding programs but was told their priority and focus was on developing new orange varieties.

Roe & Sons put its own lab to work and eventually came up with 1,600 unique trees.

The company spent roughly a decade focusing on grower characteristics, such as volume, uniformity and disease resistance.

That process narrowed the field to roughly 50 varieties. For nearly two decades, the company worked to narrow the field further, focusing on traits that matter to consumers.

The result, to date, is five patented varieties and a handful of others still under evaluation.

“We’re planting as hard as we can,” Roe said. “Over the next three years, we’ll be getting close to 2,000 acres of tangerines.”

This season marks the third year the company has offered Autumn Honey, the second year for roe and the first year for aroma.

The company plans to roll out Juicy Crunch next season, Roe said.

Autumn Honey and Juicy Crunch are protected varieties, while aroma and roe are available to other growers through licensing agreements, he said.

Roe and aroma are small, easy to peel and seedless — similar to clementines, Quentin Roe said. Aroma harvest begins in late November, while the roe variety will be available starting in early December.

Autumn Honey, which is available in November and December, is a big, seeded easy-peel variety with high brix, different from anything on the market, Roe said.

Roe said Juicy Crunch is virtually seedless but is otherwise similar to Autumn Honey. It will be available from late December into February.

“There’s nothing like them,” he said of the new varieties.

 
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