He thinks the new Florida tangerines will taste better than either the Cutie or the Clementine.

“We have two big advantages Spain and California can’t take away from us: We’re closer to the equator and we get more rainfall. Our fruit will ripen a month or six weeks earlier than either of those. Because of the additional rainfall, our tangerines will be much juicier and overall larger fruit. When we get this in gear, it will really make a splash in the marketplace over the next three to 10 years.”

Intriguing possibility? Certainly. More intriguing, perhaps, is why Roe persisted with its breeding project for 2-1/2 decades. Developing new citrus varieties entails considerably more work and patience than crops like strawberries or corn; it can take as much as a decade to get a tree to the decision stage.

“It takes 10 years to grow the first real crop from a tree, then two more years for the state to clean up the budwood, then four more years to get an acre producing,” Gee says.

“After that you’re ready to start looking at more acreage, but it’s slow. If you’ve seen it on one acre, you’re not about to haul off and plant it on 5,000 acres. So, what we have is 10 acres here in the Winter Haven area, 10 acres in the Indian River area and 10 more at Lake Placid.

“Then four or five years later, you have a commercial quantity — but it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to what you need to develop a market.”

Roe hopes to plant some 50 and 100-acre blocks with the new tangerines beginning next spring.

Gee works as operations manager of William G. Roe & Sons, Inc. April, is chief financial officer of Noble Juices, and pays a lot of attention to marketing.

“Our target area is the Eastern Seaboard,”April says. “California has the advantage west of the Mississippi; Spain has the advantage in Europe and northern Africa. For us, the Eastern Seaboard is easy to get to.

“For the new smaller tangerine varieties, we’re going to use interesting packaging that retailers love and consumers like. It’s a five-pound carton, a cardboard crate that has a unique look.”

Roe positions itself as a ‘green’ company. That doesn’t mean it’s an organic grower, but an environmentally responsible one.

“We were the first to use a biodegradable eco-friendly bottle made from plants, and we make them here, as well,” April says.The bottle won the Produce Marketing Association’s Impact Award for Excellence in Packaging in 2008.

“It’s been neat to see the bigger companies in the business get onto it after we did, because consumers were requesting it,” she says. “Green is something consumers recognize and is a great play for us.”

While the bigger competitors seem engrossed in selling ever-more-exotic blends, Roe will continue to hang its hat on pure juice.

“That fits well into what we as a company do,” April says. “We’ll rely on the branded pure juice product. It’s high quality, something we can be proud of, the same brand marketed over four generations from this family.”

Even with that background, though, the Roes remain innovative. When blueberries began to look profitable in central Florida, they began packing them as well. 

“Blueberries have been great,” she says. “For the last 15 or 20 years, they have been a quickly expanding segment of Florida agriculture. We jumped on that seven or eight years ago. To date, 100 percent of the blueberries we sell have gone to the fresh market. At this time, we don’t have anything on the table for blueberry juices. Blueberries work well with our core business.”

Ever curious and entrepreneurial, the Roes partnered in an experimental ethanol plant adjoining their packinghouse. If successful, it will turn peels into biofuel.

“We already recycle our packaging waste,” April says. “We use the peel all the way through, as much as possible, but would like to use more of it. The ethanol plant is a neat experiment — it’s kind of a pet project, and it’s fun to be part of something different.