“A bigger gorilla by far than HLB, going into the future, is slumping market demand for citrus products from Florida and apparently from other producing areas in the United States as well,” declares Apopka citrus grower Chip Henry of McGuire Groves.
He believes the decline in demand for Florida citrus products is related to HLB reducing fruit quality. “Consumers are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the price increasing and the quality declining of orange juice processed here in Florida,” Henry says.
Low Brix and low acid levels in recent years are factors in the quality decline, Henry says. He points to orange statistics in a recent Florida Citrus Mutual newsletter that showed this season’s average degrees Brix was 11.93, while the acid level was only .69.
“The evolution in the decline (in quality and market demand) started with HLB attacking the state,” Henry says. “We don’t have the Cadillac image anymore with the consumer, because we’re unable to produce the highest quality like we used to have back before HLB.”
The remedy to poor quality, Henry suggests, is for growers to “reconstruct their production programs to basically produce less fruit, but larger, higher-quality fruit with substantially higher Brix.” He says reducing chemical fertilizers (nitrogen, in particular) in the soil to increase beneficial microbial activity and adding beneficial microbes will help tree root systems recover. “This is going to take time, probably two or three years or more to get to the point where the quality will come back up to near where it needs to be,” Henry says.
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