Lessons From Hurricane Ian Will Help Growers

Josh McGillhurricane, Survey

Researchers will assess 20 to 30 Florida citrus groves impacted by 2022’s Hurricane Ian to learn lessons that will help growers in the future. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) researchers Christopher Vincent and Tripti Vashisth and their teams will conduct the assessment.

Hurricane Ian severely damaged the Florida citrus industry. (Photo by Frank Giles)

The research will be funded by a $280,000, one-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Hurricane Ian hit most citrus groves in Florida with flooding rains and high wind speeds. Dropped fruit and lost foliage from tree canopies were immediately apparent, but previous experience suggests that recovery will lag, with continued leaf and fruit drop over the coming months.

Growers need timely information to improve recovery, as well as recommendations to plan production systems that are more resilient to future storms. These practices include particle films, individual protective covers, irrigation to reduce stress, and gibberellic acid to enhance new leaf production, as well as grove layouts and windbreaks to reduce damage from future storms.

“Ultimately, with work funded by this grant, we hope to be able to make recommendations for horticultural practices to mitigate hurricane losses and hasten recovery of tree health,” said Vincent, the project leader. “Also, by looking at groves in different locations, we will be better prepared to predict damage from future storms and the time trees take to recover, depending on wind speeds.”

Vincent and Vashisth are still looking for additional participants. They will be examining a variety of groves that experienced various levels of storm conditions — from tropical storm force winds to the strongest and worst storm conditions.

Groves with different varieties, including Hamlin, Valencia, Star Ruby and Sugar Belle, will be part of the review. Researchers will be looking at the number of fruit dropped month-to-month, final yield per tree and canopy recovery. Mature, fully expanded leaves will be sampled every six months and measured for weight and other characteristics to assess tree health and nutritional status. Roots will be sampled at six-month intervals to assess the impact of storm flooding.

All information gathered in these grove surveys will be used to model the impacts of wind speed and flooding on grove health and on recovery time. This information will provide the data for a decision-support tool that can be used to further understand the medium-term economic and horticultural impacts of tropical storms.

Vincent expects to be able to share information with growers about his findings beginning this summer. Growers who participate in the study will get monthly updates on the status of trees across the state, as well as any observations on helpful production practices. Participation will take very little effort from the grower. Those interested in participating should email Vincent at civince@ufl.edu.

Source: UF/IFAS

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