The threat of Hurricane Irma has been looming over Florida. Now, the state is roughly three to four days from facing the storm. While people prepare their hurricane kits, Florida citrus growers are doing what they can to protect their groves. However, at this point, very little can be done. Calvin Arnold, center director of the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, says growers face several threats with Irma, including fruit drop.
According to Arnold, Florida citrus growers have two immediate concerns: fruit drop and the citrus trees themselves. Although the trees are not ready to harvest, they are bearing fruit. Hurricane Irma will bring strong wind, which does not bode well for immature fruit on the trees. Arnold says growers have “worked all year and put a lot of money into producing that crop. They’re really worried about the citrus being blown off.”
Citrus growers have already been dealing with fruit drop challenges due to citrus greening and citrus black spot. Hurricane Irma highly increases the threat of fruit drop.
The citrus tree itself is also an immediate concern for growers. As most growers know, HLB-infected trees generally have weaker root systems. The root system not only nourishes the tree, but also serves as an anchor in the ground to help the tree stand. When a root system is weak, strong winds can easily blow the tree over and destroy the crop. Furthermore, because the trees are bearing fruit, the combination of strong wind and extra weight can cause limbs to break.
Arnold thinks the biggest threat with Irma will be the wind. He says southwest Florida is expecting approximately 10 to 12 inches of rain, but that is not the main concern. “We don’t need that much rain, but we can survive that,” he says.
Arnold says he does not have any advice beyond what growers already know. “Dehydrate the grove as best you can. Other than that, there’s nothing you can do,” he says. Dehydrating the grove to keep the soil as dry as possible will help the root system to keep a good grip in the ground.
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