Citrus researchers are working at the speed of light: fluorescent, ultraviolet and near infrared light, that is.

Thanks to a gift from the grower-funded Citrus Research Board in Visalia, Calif., scientists at the Lindcove Research and Extension Center of the University of California are collecting data faster than ever before in their quest to develop better rootstock.

Center director Beth Grafton-Cardwell said the accuracy and variety of data being collected with the new Compac InVision 9000cir sorting machine provided by the Citrus Research Board means lower costs and better research for the center.

Previously, labor costs meant the center could afford to gather only small samples from citrus trees. With the new sorter, scientists can examine all fruit from the trees they are studying, providing a more complete picture.

Actually, the Compac machine gives them multiple pictures of each piece of fruit. Photos are taken of fruit — from the smallest of mandarins to the largest grapefruits — as it travels through scanners and scales on the machine.

“We can determine which rootstock and scion combinations give the perfect size, sweetest taste and best ripening fruit,” Grafton-Cardwell said.

She said researchers are working with Compac’s software development arm, Paste Technology, to refine the sorter so it will also be able to recognize and differentiate pest damage and measure which pesticides work best to protect citrus from damage.

Don Armson, U.S. market manager for the New Zealand-based Compac, said the InVision 9000cir is as popular with packers as it is with the scientists. Compac has been selling its sorting machines in the U.S. since 1995. Armson estimates half of California’s commercially packed citrus crop is handled by Compac sorters.

Citrus research advancing at speed of lightCompac is now preparing to install what it believes will be the largest clementine line in the world at Paramount Citrus in Delano, Calif.

“It’s the largest sale ever for Compac,” Armson said Dec. 21. “The Paramount project will have 90 lanes and 40 of them are more than a football field in length.”

Armson said the first machine has been shipped and testing should begin by June. The plan is to have the new sorting lines running in time for Paramount’s November 2012 season.