Billy Barben, new president for the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association (HCCGA), says he is optimistic that new fertilizer programs and future genetic trees “will give us hope in the future.”
Barben, whose brothers, Bobby and John, have also served the association as president, says, “I’m more of the dirt guy in my family.” As a grower, he has opinions regarding the spraying of HLB-spreading Asian citrus psyllids and postbloom fruit drop (PFD).
“I really believe we’ve gone after the psyllids too hard with insecticidal sprays, and we’ve ruined all our beneficials,” he says. “The mites have come back to harm us. Some fruit hasn’t made it to fresh as it should. It went to juice (and) lost a lot of money per acre.”
Barben turns his attention to PFD, which cost many growers much fruit during the past two seasons. He is hopeful growers will have fewer PFD-related losses next season because conditions have not been highly favorable for the disease so far this year. “The last few years … we had some wet bloom seasons,” Barben says. “But this year it seemed to be dry, and hopefully it’ll stay dry for another month … and we won’t have that fungus hitting us as hard as it did last year.”
Barben became president at the HCCGA annual meeting on March 2, succeeding last year’s president, Ned Hancock.
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