The Citrus Research and Field Trial Foundation Inc. (CRAFT Foundation) board of directors, technical working group (TWG), staff and a legion of volunteers have been working at top speed throughout the summer finalizing the formation, organization and funding of the CRAFT program.
The first priority for the CRAFT Foundation staff and board of directors has been securing all available funding for the program. More than $6.5 million has been awarded from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) HLB-MAC to fund program work, data collection and administration of the program. In addition, the CRAFT Foundation has submitted a proposal for $2 million in response to the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF)’s request for proposals on large-scale citrus research field trials and demonstrations. A decision by the CRDF on that proposal is expected by Sept. 26. Continued funding decisions by the USDA for the next two years are expected by Oct. 1.
In the first year, CRAFT anticipates funding the 2,000 acres of new solid-set plantings and 240 acres of resets in groves for rehabilitation (where new resets account for 25 percent of the planted trees) with approximately 65 growers participating. Projects, limited to orange and grapefruit varieties, will be distributed across the major citrus-growing regions of Florida, thus representing the different soil types and environmental micro-climates within each citrus production region.
Depending on the availability of funding, it is expected that year two could include the planting of an additional 3,000 acres. The program is expected to collect data from each participating grove for six to eight years. The data will be analyzed to determine the best practices or combination of best practices to mitigate the effects of HLB.
At its core, the CRAFT program is a broad-scale research project carried out under commercial citrus production conditions. As such, growers who wish to participate in the CRAFT program will be asked to select between one and three factors to test from a list of testable items developed by the TWG. These “test factors” will be employed by the grower on test blocks of 20 to 100 acres. The factors that can be selected for testing include methods and treatments that past research has shown to have a positive impact on HLB mitigation.
A complete list of test factors will be included in the online application and will include categories such as grove architecture (i.e., tree density, rootstock) tree health (i.e., irrigation, nutrition, biostimulants, etc.) and vector management (i.e., individual protective covers, reflective mulch, physical barriers, etc.). Upon review of applications, the CRAFT Foundation may choose to negotiate project elements with growers to achieve a multi-location design, across major growing regions and help fill out CRAFT experiment design goals.
The CRAFT application will be available online in the next few days at www.craftfdn.org. Applications will be due by 5:00 p.m. on Oct. 15, 2019. The approval process will not be “first-come, first-serve,” so there will be plenty of time to apply. Information and directions on the application process will also be available on the CRAFT website. Growers will be able to print an application worksheet to assist them in gathering information before beginning the application process.
Once the application window has closed, participating projects will be selected by the CRAFT Foundation board of directors in a blind-selection process. Contracts will be offered to the growers whose projects best align with CRAFT experimental design goals. Growers selected for contracts will be contacted by CRAFT representatives to make sure the participant understands all terms and conditions of their contract before signing.
Upon execution of the program contract, growers will be responsible for carrying out all production-related activities and their portion of the data collection as outlined in each contract. Data collected will be inputted into the USDA/Agricultural Research Service data management tool and will be made available to the public while maintaining anonymity for the participating grower.
In return for the data provided and access to the groves being tested, participating growers will be paid an annual fee amounting to up to $3,000 the first year for solid set plantings (a reduced amount for resets in established groves in the program). To qualify for year-one fees, all planting must take place after execution of the contract and before June 30, 2019. The grower must fully perform all terms and conditions of his contract as well to qualify for payments. Additional, smaller payments will be made as funding permits for subsequent years of participation.
“The success of the CRAFT program will, undoubtedly, come from the combined efforts of the Florida citrus growers and the support team who has put in so much effort already,” said CRAFT Foundation Executive Director Kristen Carlson. “From Florida Citrus Mutual working diligently to help secure funds, to our volunteer board of directors and technical working groups to Commissioner Fried’s staff, and the team members at the USDA, UF/IFAS and CRDF who have all stepped up and worked overtime to get all aspects of the CRAFT Foundation and program up and running, we couldn’t have made it this far without their assistance. Now it’s time for the selected growers to bring the project to life and to help provide invaluable data and guidance for all citrus growers to learn from.”
Source: CRAFT Foundation