Grower Discusses Many HLB-Related Issues

Ernie Neff Bactericides, Citrus Greening, HLB Management


Kenny Sanders

Wauchula citrus grower and orange grove salesman Kenny Sanders was one of the growers sharing experiences at a recent grower roundtable meeting in Wauchula. Sanders tells why he attends the meetings and discusses several practices aimed at coping with HLB.

“This is very interesting,” Sanders says of the roundtable meetings. “We hear from the growers ourselves, and today we learned a lot about the bactericides and different ways to use them. We learned a lot about irrigation. One of the things I came away with mostly was the time element of irrigation. Several people reinforced (the importance of) watering every day, and the fertigation and the different times we’re using the liquid fertilizer. A lot of them (growers) are talking about controlled-release fertilizer.”

Sanders has not yet seen positive results from the bactericides he has applied to fight HLB. “Me personally, no,” he says. “And the people around me, we’re all the same way. We have the fear factor. We’re afraid not to use them, but we haven’t seen any positive results that we know of.”

“The groves in general are looking better this year,” Sanders says. “One thing we picked up (from) the Citrus Industry magazine, that the first year of greening is when you have the biggest root loss. So maybe so many years have gone by, all of the groves in general seem to be looking better. So maybe we’re doing something right, whether it’s liquid fertilizer or more water. But the trees in general are looking better. But everybody’s production mostly seems to still be down.”

Some growers at the meeting said their production has declined to 100 or 150 boxes per acre. “One thing that we are seeing, once we hit that level it feels like we’re at the bottom,” Sanders says. “And the people whose production is coming up, it’s coming up from those levels. But it seems like we all have to get to that point for it to start getting better. But again, these prices are the highest we’ve ever seen, the fruit price. So we’re seeing that with 150 boxes an acre, with these prices on Valencias — some are talking $2.85 (per pound solids) — you can make some money with that.”

At the meeting, Sanders mentioned the vast sums spent on HLB research. “When I look at it, it’s $220 million at 500,000 acres of grove,” he says. “We could have put in 55 resets an acre apiece at $8 a reset. And I know … they’re doing the best they can working as hard as they can for the research. But in hindsight, you think, man, I wish we’d have spent it another way.”

Sanders discusses the production in his groves. “Last year, I was at 307 (boxes of oranges per acre), but I think I’m going to have a 30 percent loss this year. This will be the lowest I’ve ever had. I haven’t finished picking my Valencias … but it will be definitely less than 300 boxes an acre. I’m assuming somewhere around 240 or 250.”

The roundtable meeting was co-hosted by Peace River Valley Citrus Growers Association Executive Director Steve Smith and multi-county citrus Extension agent Steve Futch.

Hear the Sanders interview:

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Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large