Tea’s Specialty Crop Potential Being Studied in the Southeast

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Brantlee Spakes Richter. Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS.

Tea is an extremely popular drink in the United States and around the world. However, the market for tea can go beyond just consumption. For example, tea can be used in beauty products and essential oils. The market makes tea an attractive specialty crop for growers. Brantlee Spakes Richter, a senior lecturer at the University of Florida (UF), is currently working on growing tea in Florida and navigating through the challenges of the crop.

Richter’s research started a little over a year ago. “This is very new,” she says. “Right now, the challenges are figuring out what the challenges are going to be.” A difficulty that she is already seeing is weed management. Richter is trying to obtain funding for weed control research.

Another issue she is dealing with is the lack of information about the crop, and therefore a lack of named cultivars in the United States. This disparity is part of the reason why UF researchers received the starter grant to begin their research. Richter hopes to create named varieties so growers can have more insight on what to plant to fit different circumstances.

As far as pest pressure, Richter says the biggest issue right now is mites on some of the plants. This poses a difficult issue because there has not been a lot of work done on mites, so it may be tough to combat them. Secondly, Richter has noticed some fire ants nestling close against the bushes. She notes that she is finding more pest pressure in the greenhouse than in the field.

Mississippi State is working on tea research as well. Richter says UF researchers have been in communication with Mississippi State researchers as they complete their work. She adds that the two schools collaborated and co-authored a grant proposal to further tea research in the United States.

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Abigail Taylor

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