Florida citrus grower Ed James shared his successful experience with cover crops during a recent event he hosted at his Howey-in-the-Hills grove. The event, sponsored by Sand to Soil Services, included talks from industry experts on soil health and plant nutrition.
James said his production went to “zero” before he planted cover crops about 12 years ago. Production “gradually came back up four years ago to 300 boxes an acre.”
“It’s been floating around 200 boxes an acre, but I have backed off on cover cropping a little bit,” James said. “I’m fixing to dial it back in on the cover crops, balance the nutrients and get back up to 300 to 400 boxes an acre … The growth has gone backwards a little bit … but I’m going to push the trees forward and take them to the next level.”
To accomplish this, James said he will plant more cover crops and replace some of the minerals.
“The biggest problem for the crop production is there’s been zero added nitrogen all these years and very minimal micronutrients,” said James. “I’m going to have to put some more micronutrients back in there to fill what’s deficient and possibly add a little bit of nitrogen, if I don’t get it from the cover crops this year. We’ll watch that according to tissue analysis.”
James is also using some wood chips that break down as compost. “That’s a great thing to help in the transition,” he said. “The city brings them to me for free.” The wood chips come from various types of trees that are trimmed near power lines.
The grower said he only applies herbicide to a very narrow strip just a foot or so on either side of the tree trunks in order to maintain the integrity of the poly tubing and microjets. He also controls weeds by using an offset mower or cover crop roller underneath the trees. James uses paraquat; he has not applied glyphosate or any preemergent herbicide for 12 years.
When asked about using other chemicals in the grove, he reported he has used “no psyllid control, no pesticide, insecticide or fungicide in 10 to 12 years.”
James added he has no fruit drop and is producing high-Brix fruit. “My Hamlins are still getting 10.7 to 11 Brix. My goal is to improve the soil biology to get that Brix level higher.”
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