Soil Health Focus for HLB

Ernie Neffsoil

Juanita Popenoe

A citrus soil health field day recently attracted about 40 people to the Howey-in-the-Hills area to see growers’ success using cover crops and compost on Florida groves once stunted by HLB. Event organizer Juanita Popenoe, commercial fruit production Extension agent for Lake, Marion and Orange counties, comments on the groves’ success. Popenoe is with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science (UF/IFAS).

Popenoe says grower Ed James is emphasizing spoon-feeding of roots, citrus soil health and intensively managed cover crops. “He’s using a really holistic approach that’s completely different,” Popenoe says. James reported getting about 300 boxes per acre from Hamlins by using only cover crops for nitrogen.

In a nearby grove, Ben Krupski is using compost to add organic matter to his soil. “His trees also are beautiful,” she says. “So there’s different ways to approach this to get to a healthy soil. Some cost a little more than others. So there’s no real right way to do it. You’ve got to find the best that works for you.”

“Both of them (James and Krupski) came into groves that were almost dead” from HLB, Popenoe says. “And they brought them back to health” and have trees producing good yields. “I do not know of anybody else who’s doing anything quite like this. It’s really a first for me.”

Popenoe thinks using cover crops and compost to enhance soil health is “definitely a way to go. Unfortunately, UF doesn’t have a whole lot of research yet on just how to do it.” She says UF/IFAS researcher Sarah Strauss is beginning such research in Immokalee. “One grower doesn’t make it applicable to everybody,” Popenoe says. “All of our recommendations are based on research.”

The field day also featured Strauss, Popenoe and several other UF/IFAS researchers discussing soil health and fertility.

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About the Author

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large