Grower: Young Trees Look ‘Outstanding’

Ernie Neff Production

David Wheeler

In the face of production declines, pest issues and other challenges, multi-county Florida citrus grower David Wheeler of Wheeler Farms found something positive to report. “One bright spot is the health of our young trees,” he said. “They look outstanding and have been on a good program with a rotation of insecticides.”

Wheeler Farms’ more mature citrus trees aren’t doing so well. “Our older trees continue to struggle and decline,” Wheeler reported.

“Our pick outs and production were down for the 2020-21 season,” Wheeler said. “What compounded this is the fact that the quality of the juice was lower also. The pound solids were lower.”

Wheeler Farms has much company in the Florida citrus industry. Total Florida citrus production has plummeted since HLB was discovered in the state in 2005. Florida produced just 52.8 million boxes of oranges in 2020-21, down from 67.4 million boxes in 2019-20 and 71.85 million boxes in 2018-19.

“We are having a harder time controlling rust mite,” Wheeler said. “One new pest for Wheeler Farms this year was the lebbeck mealybug.”

Florida growers have long battled rust mites, but the lebbeck mealybug was first discovered in Florida commercial citrus in 2019. It feeds on and damages citrus, and can cause major fruit drop in heavily infested groves.

“At this time tree health is good,” Wheeler said. “The bloom was uniform, and the crop is consistent. We have been concentrating on root health and also have increased our use of minor elements in the fertilizer program.”

Wheeler discussed Wheeler Farms’ root health program in a 2019 Citrus Industry magazine article, Strategies for Stronger Roots. Irrigation practices and the use of humic and fulvic acid materials to increase soil organic carbon were among root health strategies he discussed in that article.

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About the Author

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large

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