In a wide-ranging talk at Citrus Expo in August, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher Fred Gmitter discussed many topics important to growers. Subjects included making variety decisions when planting, surviving HLB, and the potential for lemons in Florida. He summarizes his discussion:
“We can give information (about citrus varieties), but we don’t want to give prescriptions,” Gmitter says. “It’s also important for growers to go out and do their homework; get out and look at trials; see what’s going on out there because they can learn an awful lot from that … See it firsthand; see it work or not work.”
Even before Hurricane Irma knocked much fruit off of Florida trees in September, Gmitter reported that Florida was no longer the United States’ largest citrus producer. “In the past season, California surpassed us in total citrus production,” he says. “We’re still number one in oranges and in grapefruit, but we’re way down on the list in mandarins and … lemons.”
“We will survive HLB,” Gmitter declares. “If you look at new plantings with new management strategies, new plantings with new varieties … and those things together, we’re really beginning to see a turnaround that’s really made me more optimistic … Looking around the state, looking at groves where growers are doing different things nutritionally, we’re really seeing some situations where yields have actually increased over the last two years in some blocks, all on the basis of how they’re managing their nutrients.”
Gmitter adds that HLB-tolerant citrus varieties are now available. “We’re seeing that with some tolerant types, growers can have a crop and can make money, in fact. And in the end, that’s the bottom line, isn’t it?”
Gmitter makes a case for growing more lemons in Florida. “We know that lemons tolerate HLB better than oranges and grapefruit do, in general,” he says. He adds that more lemon production could help citrus processing plants run longer hours than the current reduced Florida citrus crop allows. Lemon peel oil and lemonade probably offer the most opportunity, he adds.
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