(UF/IFAS) — A recent program encouraging Florida citrus growers to learn more about the nutrient management of their groves is yielding promising results.
Nearly 200 growers and industry representatives attended four workshops in late 2019 to learn about the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Citrus Nutrition Box program.
UF/IFAS faculty distributed 117 free boxes of materials and instructions to growers who will take a soil sample and four-leaf samples for laboratory analysis. Samples are then submitted to a Florida laboratory with the results being shared with a UF/IFAS team of researchers and Extension agents.
The UF/IFAS team then meets and discusses each report, formulating tailored nutrient recommendations for each grove.
To date, the team has received and analyzed 75 soil/leaf analysis results from across Florida.
“Researchers and citrus Extension agents meet and discuss each set of sample results. We then prepare fertilizer recommendations specifically for that grove,” said Tripti Vashisth, a horticultural sciences assistant professor with the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.
Ed Dickinson, a citrus grower in Polk County, is one of the early participants in the program.
“The information from the growers being shared with IFAS is a common thread among growers in the region,” he said. “I am interested in learning the results from the larger group who participate in the study. We should be able to get some additional information about nutrition management that will help the larger industry.”
Participating growers should now be following the UF/IFAS recommendations and looking forward to the second leaf sampling and lab analysis.
“There should be at least a month gap between implementing the recommendations and taking the second leaf sample. Soil samples only need to be taken once a year,” said Vashisth. If growers have a kit and have not yet submitted their first soil and leaf samples, they are encouraged to do so as soon as possible.
“It takes a long time to see any measurable impacts on citrus trees, and we hope participating growers will continue with the program for a full year,” said Vashisth. “That way, we can collect enough data to share with the larger grower community.”
Citrus needs careful management because Florida soils don’t hold nutrients well. Science-based management is also important now that HLB is so thoroughly established in Florida.
The disease compromises a tree’s ability to obtain nutrients from the soil through its roots as well as its ability to maximize those nutrients throughout the tree, Vashisth said. “It is critical that we assess the tree’s nutrient needs and supply precisely what is needed rather than guessing what it may be requiring.”
Organizers hope the Citrus Nutrition Box program will ensure participants’ groves receive exactly the nutrients they need — a move that will not only optimize tree health but also reduce growers’ use of inputs, saving money and reducing environmental impact, she said.
Ultimately researchers hope that the program will provide more information for growers across the state as everyone continues to learn about nutrient requirements for HLB-affected trees.
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