Nurseryman Discusses HLB, Grapefruit and Lemons

Ernie NeffGrapefruit, HLB Management, lemons


nate jameson

The impact of HLB on total citrus tree propagations, including the decline in grapefruit and growth in lemons, is addressed by nurseryman Nate Jameson. Jameson, owner of Brite Leaf Citrus Nursery, discusses some points he made at the annual Florida Citrus Show in January.

“A few years ago we were propagating about 4.7 million trees a year,” Jameson says. “We’re down to about 3.5 million trees a year … an indication of the economics of citrus today.”

“Without question, HLB is just a significant impact on our industry … It’s very difficult to keep investing when you’re not getting a return on the investment,” Jameson says. “I certainly understand that putting trees back in the ground doesn’t make a good economic decision for you if you’re not being profitable.”

Jameson explains why a new planting is a different decision than a reset planting. He notes that research indicates a majority of HLB-spreading Asian citrus psyllids live in the top third of trees. “The benefit to that is, it does mean that resets can hide a little better in the orchard from live psyllids, so the feeding pressure is less versus a new planting.”

The nurseryman reports on a huge decline in the number of grapefruit trees being propagated: “Grapefruit suffers from citrus canker and HLB to the extent that it’s just very, very difficult to be profitable producing grapefruit … So as a result, we only propagated about 51,700 or so grapefruit … in the last fiscal year, where historically we’ve propagated 250,000 or so grapefruit trees a year, and even in some years in the past we’ve hit almost a million grapefruit trees in a year.”

On the other hand, lemon tree propagations in Florida recently rose to 215,000 in a year. Jameson reports that lemon demand is growing, and that he understands worldwide lemon supply is declining. “It seems to be a lot of growing interest in lemons for juice and for the byproduct, lemon oils,” Jameson says. “It’s interesting that some lemons, and I want to stress some, not all, are more HLB tolerant … It may be a good decision (to grow lemons), but time will tell.” He notes that a downside to lemon production is the lack of cold hardiness.

Finally, Jameson notes that the citrus industry in recent years asked for quicker releases of new varieties. “If you’re willing to plant those, you’re assuming a little more risk because you have less knowledge to work with,” he says. But he adds that there are many rootstock and variety trials that growers can attend. He urges them to attend those trials so they make better planting decisions.

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Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large