Growers Share HLB Frustrations and Experiences

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HLB

Steve Smith, left, at the grower roundtable

Growers shared their frustrations and experiences with HLB at a May 4 grower roundtable meeting in Wauchula. Event co-host Steve Smith, executive director of Peace River Valley Citrus Growers Association, summarizes the discussions.

“A lot of the growers were talking about fertigation and how much, and what’s working for them on the short-term basis as far as tree health goes,” Smith says. “(There’s) a lot of focus on good irrigation management and micronutrients. Planting trees is definitely on everyone’s mind: what kind, what variety, what spacing.”

All indications were that no one suffered from postbloom fruit drop this spring, a problem that caused major losses the previous two seasons. “I think we can put that one behind us for this year,” Smith says. “They’re more concerned about getting some rain at this point.”

Several growers said they have problems with root-damaging Diaprepes root weevil. “That’s always a concern, especially in the presence of HLB,” Smith says. “It just exacerbates other issues like Diaprepes.”

Growers at the event indicated their production levels ranged from 100 to 300 boxes of oranges per acre. “And that’s the case in general with other growers I talk to,” Smith says. “You hope that you’re making enough money on the blocks that are doing well to afford to bring those other blocks around … It’s tough if you’re a small grower, and the one block you do have is one that’s down.”

One grower said he can break even with just 150 boxes of oranges per acre because of current high prices for juice oranges that are nearing $3 per pound of solids. “The prices are what’s keeping everybody in the game right now,” Smith says. “If we see increases in yields, then those prices may soften some.” Indeed, several growers at the meeting agreed the prices they receive are not likely to go higher, especially in the face of a long-term slump in orange juice sales.

The effect of bactericides on HLB was discussed. “The jury’s still out on that,” Smith says. “Not a lot to really hang our hats on yet … Everybody’s hopeful; they want them to work.”

As has happened at other grower gatherings recently, there was discussion about the amount of control needed for Asian citrus psyllids, which spread HLB. “A lot of research is being done in that area,” Smith says. “It comes down to budgets sometimes. What do you spend your money on?”

Virtually all at the meeting indicated they are struggling in the face of HLB. “It’s tough,” Smith says. “Growers have to be right on top of things these days. They can’t miss. Whatever they do has to be effective. They can’t afford to put anything out there that’s not going to show them a return.”

The other event co-host was Steve Futch, multi-county citrus Extension agent.

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Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large