Improving Indian River Citrus Production

Ernie NeffIndian River, Research

Indian River
Johnny Ferrarezi

At Citrus Expo in August, Rhuanito “Johnny” Ferrarezi reported on research into planting densities, irrigation and fertilization that might allow growers to better produce oranges in the Indian River area. He is a researcher with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce. The Indian River region is world renowned for grapefruit, but grapefruit has proven extremely difficult to grow in the face of HLB.

Because trees are planted in beds in the region, tree density can only be increased by adding more trees in the bedded rows. Ferrarezi said researchers are searching for a tree density “sweet spot” that will “improve the yield without compromising the overall lifespan of the grove.” The best tree density for oranges probably will be between 227 and 290 trees per acre, he added.

Ferrarezi said scientists will also look for the best way of “spoon feeding” nutrients and water so trees get the right amounts when needed. He said spoon feeding “means applying water and nutrients based on tree demand rather than just based on a rigid schedule.” Researchers and many Florida citrus growers who once spread fertilizer three or four times a year in groves have found that more frequent use of fertilizer and irrigation helps trees infected with HLB. And virtually all Florida citrus trees are now infected with the devastating disease.

Researchers also continue to work on finding the best ways to keep grapefruit productive in the Indian River area. Ferrarezi said those efforts include studies on nutrition, irrigation and rootstocks.

Yet another citrus crop is being tried in the Indian River area. “We have people investing in lemons, too, looking for potential business opportunities,” Ferrarezi said. “We want the citrus industry to continue in the River,” he declared.

Hear more from Ferrarezi:

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About the Author
Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large