Nurseryman Discusses HLB and Replanting Choices

Ernie NeffHLB Management, Rootstocks, Scions

HLB, Replanting
HLB, Replanting

Nate Jameson

As a member of a grower panel at the recent Florida Citrus Show in Fort Pierce, nurseryman Nate Jameson shared his thoughts on coping with HLB, choosing trees for replanting and more. The owner of Brite Leaf Citrus Nursery summarizes his presentation, starting with questions growers have for nurserymen.

“I think the number-one question that we get is, ‘What tree is resistant to HLB?’ Of course, we do not have a good answer for that. We do have to then work our way through what that customer’s plan is. So if he’s resetting trees and he has a wide set, we may look at a particular scion/rootstock combination that fits that … If we’re doing a new planting and a new irrigation system, we may re-evaluate that rootstock/scion combination.”

Questions Jameson may pose to growers include: “Where are you? What kind of soil type are you in? What kind of variety are you going to grow? Are you going to be a juice grower versus possibly a fresh fruit grower? … So depending on your goals as a grower, we kind of work our way through to give you some answers of what we think will work … It’s definitely not one size fits all today.”

Jameson says grove density has increased in recent years, from many growers planting 96 trees per acre to now planting 240, 280 and 300 trees per acre. “I won’t be surprised if we don’t see some of those densities continue to increase over time … Since the (production) cost per acre is up, we’ve got to try to get the yield per acre up.”

Jameson says the industry requested and is getting quicker release of varieties by University of Florida scientists. “By the university releasing those varieties sooner, we’re transferring a little bit of that risk back to the grower, and there are a lot of unknowns there,” he says. “We may believe that a particular easy-peel tangerine goes well with a particular rootstock based on a very short window history.” He suggests that growers cope with the risk of making the wrong tree choices by diversifying their citrus plantings. “Grow small,” he says. “Small could be for one guy a 2-acre planting; small could be for another customer a 10-acre planting. We’re not advocating that you bet the farm on any one particular variety combination because there’s so much we don’t know.”

The nurseryman says many of his customers are putting heavy focus on nutrient management, whether it be with the use of foliar or dry nutrition or fertigation. Many growers no longer consider nutrient programs on an annual basis, but evaluate fertilization monthly or quarterly through the use of soil and leaf sampling, he says.

Addressing HLB, Jameson says, “At least from my perspective today, I don’t see a silver bullet.” But he thinks growers need to replant to survive. “Yes, there may be a better (tree) option in the future, but that future’s an unknown,” he says. He suggests that a grower who plants two or three different varieties will “find one that’s successful. And if you do, then you made it work. If you don’t, you didn’t risk so much that you couldn’t try something else.”

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Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large