CUPS Tree Growth Surprises Growers

Ernie NeffCUPS

CUPS
Grapefruit growing in CUPS

Brothers Jerry and Keith Mixon have been surprised by how well trees grow in their citrus under protective screen (CUPS) facilities in Alturas, Florida. “All of the varieties we are growing have responded amazingly,” they said recently about their CUPS experience. Though each brother has his own CUPS structures, they jointly discussed their results.

The brothers have a combined 130 acres of citrus in CUPS, with 380 trees per acre planted in the ground. They began the CUPS plantings in 2016 and completed them in August 2018. Their Early Pride, Bingo and Sugar Belle mandarins and Ray Ruby grapefruit are sold as fresh fruit.

The main reason most growers use CUPS is to keep HLB-spreading psyllids out of trees. So far, none of the Mixon’s trees have been infected by HLB.   

Early Pride mandarin

YIELD AND PRODUCTION COSTS
“We did not harvest in year one,” the brothers reported. “In year two, we harvested about 50 boxes per acre on our Sugar Belles. The grapefruit were more productive at about 150 boxes per acre. This is their third season, and the trees are significantly larger and seem to have a good load. We expect 300-400 boxes per acre.”

Production costs are expected to be $2,200 per acre this year. “Our goal is to have exceptional external and internal quality fruit as well as significant production per acre,” the brothers said.

MARKETING AND PROFITABILITY
The market was good for fresh fruit last year, the Mixons reported. “With our varieties, we are targeting the early season when industry volumes are low and gift fruit and exports are strong,” they stated. “Based on last year’s crop observations, the internal quality was terrific, which translated into a wonderful eating experience.”

“We are optimistic that this year we will start making significant contribution to our investment,” said the Mixons. “Volume looks good, fruit looks spectacular, and efficiency is increasing. We have about 90 days left on the tree and (are) working diligently to keep fruit quality high. Now it is all about how the market accepts this quality and how much customers enjoy the product.”

THE CUPS DIFFERENCE
Production in CUPS is quite different from growing fruit in a standard grove, the Mixons have found. “We can really focus on nutrition and pest control without the confusion caused by HLB,” they said. They reported that the root system is “amazing,” and trees grow much faster. “Quality is significantly better both internally and externally, making for higher packout than our outside groves.”

“We are still learning differences in pest management, how to maximize fruit production and how to reduce some of our inputs,” they added.

THE FUTURE
“As the trees approach real maturity (age 5), we are confident that production will be maximized and expect to produce 600-700 boxes per acre like in pre-HLB days,” said the Mixons. “This increased production will make our caretaking costs per acre significantly lower than our outside groves. On top of the growing efficiency, we are confident that we will see efficiencies in harvesting and packinghouse operations.”

“This is an important year for us,” the brothers concluded. “We are focused on demonstrating to the different marketers and their customers that CUPS fruit is a premium and an item of distinction. If we succeed at this, then we see a continued expansion program.”

Jerry Mixon hosted growers and others at a CUPS field day at his facility in 2018.

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About the Author

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large