Florida is known for its oranges, sunshine, and beaches. But the Orange crop seems to be faltering a bit. Hopefully the research done on Tea leaves at the University of Florida located near Orlando will have some options to help farmers add diversity to their portfolio.

Florida soil and tea

The research was granted to the university with a whopping $60,000 price tag. The study hopes to determine the effects of Florida soil and acidity with the tea plants.

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Florida's soil in the central portion of the state is mostly found on top of limestone, which can also be found from as far as Miami. This type of rock is fragile and often causes sinkholes to form. Not only does limestone cause structure issues, but also acidity issues as well. The research team at University of Florida hopes to discover how acidity could affect the tea leaves and help farmers push out quality products.

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They work alongside Mississippi State University.

In May of this year eight tea plant varieties were planted on the University of Florida campus to see which types of tea plants work successfully with the Florida soil. "I think that tea could be a part of a diverse profile for growers," said Brantlee Ritcher, professor of pathology at University of Florida.

Future cash crop

Location is key to growing effective tea plants.

The regions of north and central Florida contain a climate similar to Assam in India where half of the tea production in that region accounts for India's capital. The acidity may bring out different flavors in the tea, or may make it taste similar to a Darjeeling tea from the Assam region. "I think Florida may have a unique flavor profile that can't be duplicated," said James Orrock, a doctoral pathology student under Professor Ritcher.

Carl Childers a professor of entomology at the University of Florida says that tea plants enjoy water, but not a lot of water that is required by tropical fruit plants such as oranges, mangoes, and pineapples. Childers has been studying mites and how they might help the tea plants be grown pesticide free and reduce the amount of chemicals used in commercial cash crop products.

Out of the fifty states that make up the United States, only Hawaii has the best commercial success growing tea plants.

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Their climate is warm and mild, with fertile soil from volcanoes and it is lush and wet most of the year due to its tropical weather patterns. There are currently ten states including Florida that are producing tea. If tea was to be commercially grown in Florida, then there would be small scale farms set up to see how the plant performs in the state before going to a larger scale production line. The current diversity of products being grown by farmers in Florida include olives, pomegranates, blueberries, and strawberries.

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