Citrus growers from several of Florida’s production regions joined researchers recently for a look inside 14-foot high screenhouses that protect trees from HLB-spreading Asian citrus psyllids.
The CUPS (Citrus Under Protective Screens) Field Day took place at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Indian River Research and Education Center (UF/IFAS IRREC) in Fort Pierce. Johnny Ferrarezi, assistant professor of citrus horticulture at IRREC, and Jawwad Qureshi, assistant professor of entomology at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, hosted the event.
“We conduct experiments inside the CUPS houses to investigate irrigation and fertilization management strategies and test different varieties to produce high-value citrus free of HLB,” said Ferrarezi. “We serve growers in Florida with research findings they can readily use in their operations.”
Qureshi and Ferrarezi’s team of 17 postdoctorate researchers, graduate students, visiting scholars and research assistants greeted 25 guests, the maximum number permitted in the COVID-19-era. Participants included a citrus grower from South Georgia and Florida citrus industry members from Miami-Dade, St. Lucie, Indian River, Lake and Highlands counties.
“The CUPS field day was a great learning event,” said Clay Lamar. “Being a grower and nurseryman, I consider myself a forever citrus student, and there is nowhere better to learn than from Dr. Ferrarezi and his team.”
Lamar and other guests entered two of the four CUPS houses at IRREC to observe live experiments and operations. Each house is about 58,000 square feet, constructed with thick wooden utility poles supported by metal cables, and covered with a white 50-mesh screen. Inside the CUPS, healthy citrus trees are 5 feet 5 inches by 10 feet apart. Irrigation emitters break through the sandy soil, and wide black strips of woven plastic ground cover block weeds and separate tree rows.
“The screenhouses exclude the psyllid, but other insects can enter the houses,” said Qureshi. “Growers need to monitor and manage pests, beneficial insects and mites found in the CUPS.”
“The trees inside the houses are healthy and produce juicy, marketable fruit,” said Ferrarezi. “Our houses stand near the ocean and are susceptible to severe weather events. The growers could see that it is possible to produce fruit in the houses and protect the houses from hurricanes.”
Ferrarezi said CUPS installation and ongoing maintenance costs are other factors he researches for growers. “Plastic mesh and other parts of the screenhouses are impacted by Florida’s severe weather and require regular replacement,” he said. “The IRREC CUPS houses are almost nine years old. The screening reached its lifespan and was replaced.”
During the field day, Ferrarezi explained how growers could conserve water with fertigation. He showed visitors an automated irrigation controller and fertigation tanks.
“Water management can be highly efficient in CUPS systems,” said Ferrarezi. “And production data is strong, too. We can plant trees in high-density configurations that produce much higher fruit yields, as highlighted in a scientific publication published in Frontiers in Plant Science in 2019 available at https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2019.01598/full.”
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