Citrus to Vanilla?

October 2, 2018

The world’s second most popular spice – vanilla – may soon be sprouting up in vacant citrus groves in South Florida.

Researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) are working with citrus growers who are looking at ways to diversify in the wake of the devastating effects of citrus greening.

Tree orchards could also double as vanilla farms. Avocado trees provide a shady canopy and a solid structure for the vine-like vanilla plants to climb.
“We call them tutor trees,” said Alan Chambers, an assistant professor of genetics and the breeding of tropical fruit with UF/IFAS. “In terms of co-cropping, you want a shade tree that’s long-lived and doesn’t require a lot of chemical inputs like fungicides or insecticides. It’s a lower cost option for getting into the market.”

Growers of citrus, tomatoes and sweet corn have successfully utilized co-cropping to boost their selling power.

Chambers says there is much research to do before vanilla is determined commercially viable in Florida.

Vanilla plants are currently growing at the Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead.