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A Florida school says it's got a Gator Bite to rival California Cuties, and Halo oranges

Pictured here are fresh ripe mandarins.
Africa Studio
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Adobe Stock
A new variety of fruit is being developed by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Citrus Research and Education Center. Its Director, Michael Rogers, says the fruit is meant to be an alternative to California Cuties and Halos.

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Citrus Research and Education Center is developing a new variety of mandarin orange. The center's Director, Michael Rogers, told state lawmakers in a Senate committee meeting that the fruit is meant to compete against California Halos and Cuties.

"We actually got the UF athletic department or whoever the powers that be there to let us use the name 'gator,' and call it a 'gator bite' for this variety. We didn't know if we'd get the licensing agreement to do that," Rogers said.

Rogers told lawmakers that Gator Bites make Halos and Cuties taste like cardboard. The fruit is one of many varieties his center is developing to be resistant to citrus greening or HLB, a disease that kills trees and can cause fruit to drop prematurely.

Rogers told lawmakers that planting HLB-resistant trees is one of a few short-term solutions to combat citrus greening. Others include improving a grove's fertilizer and soil and applying an acid that helps trees tolerate the disease.

"Growing citrus is not the same as it used to be in Florida. It's a lot more intensive management. It takes a lot more time," Rogers said.

He said Florida's citrus industry was predicted to collapse in 2015 due to citrus greening. But thanks to these short-term solutions, Rogers said growers are seeing improvements. In the meantime, his center is working on a long-term solution: editing tree genes to make them resistant to HLB.