Apopka citrus grower Chip Henry reports that McGuire Groves received 9.5 inches of rain in March 2022. In March 2023, it received less than half an inch. Portions of Lee, Hendy and Collier counties were in an extreme drought as of April 6, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Many other areas of Florida, including where McGuire Groves is located, are in a severe drought.
This season, Henry harvested his 12 acres of Valencias in mid-March, much earlier than normal. In a typical year, he harvests in late April or May. The escalating drought prompted his decision to harvest early.
“My Valencias bloomed later than normal, all in one wave, and the bloom was fast and furious,” Henry says.
The compacted bloom period was less than three weeks, during which no rain fell. Henry irrigated his trees twice during that time.
“The heat caused the crop to mature faster than would otherwise be expected and allowed the Brix and pounds solids to achieve an acceptable range for harvest,” says Henry.
Drought is not the only extreme weather event Henry’s grove has seen this season. The Christmas freeze brought three days of temperatures of 28 degrees or lower for durations of four hours or more. Despite these prolonged cold periods, he found no substantial fruit or tree damage.
“We had excellent ground moisture going into the freeze. In addition, the wind was favorable and kept frost from forming,” says Henry.
His grove is equipped with overhead irrigation, so he did not have the ability to use microirrigation for freeze protection. While the ground moisture and favorable wind helped prevent freeze damage, Henry also cites the older age and general good health of his trees as contributing factors.
On top of that, he thinks his use of microbial-based fertilizers played a big part in protecting his trees. “Microbes generate heat during a freeze event. Microbials can mitigate cold, heat and drought conditions,” he says. The grower, who produces his crop organically, had treated his grove with a microbial-based fertilizer within a month of the December freeze.
While Henry’s yield this season was virtually identical to last season, he is expecting it to increase next season.
“I see potential for this crop coming on to exceed the volume of the last couple of seasons,” says Henry. “There are more fruitlets on the branches. My harvester noticed it, too, and told me I’m going to have a lot more fruit next year.”
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