Indian River’s Grapefruit Plight

Ernie Neff Grapefruit

Doug Bournique

Florida grapefruit trees have taken a much harder hit from HLB, also known as greening disease, in recent years than orange trees have. Grapefruit production has plummeted drastically, and growers are desperately seeking ways to keep trees alive and productive. The fruit’s troubles have hit especially hard in the Indian River area, known worldwide for its grapefruit.

Indian River Citrus League Executive Vice President Doug Bournique discussed the region’s grapefruit plight during a break at the recent Florida Citrus Show in Fort Pierce. “We thought five or six years ago greening was more aggressive on oranges,” he said. “But it turned out it’s much more aggressive on grapefruit.” He said the industry “needs to be helped quickly with new scions and new rootstocks that are tolerant (of HLB).”

Bournique hopes that two major research projects will help growers find grapefruit scion/rootstock combinations that will allow trees to survive and produce fruit. He said in one project, 30 different growers are each planting 10 acres of the 10 most HLB-tolerant scions and rootstocks. “Growers are optimistic enough (for) 30 of them to sign up to put in 10 acres each,” he said.

According to Bournique, the research project will be successful if only one combination in one grove produces a healthy tree with good production. “This’ll only take one tree … and once this industry finds that — boom!” he declared.

Bournique added that University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) researcher Rhuanito “Johnny” Ferrarezi is also planting 24 acres of test grapefruit plots at the Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce. Bournique said Ferrarezi’s research will help guide growers on what rootstocks and scions from UF/IFAS and from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are the best ones to plant for the future.

Bournique also commented on the current production season, which he said features more fruit that is only small to medium size. “Quality is better” this season, he said.

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About the Author

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large