Winston Churchill once said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” The positive attitude of this year’s Florida GrowerSM Citrus Achievement Award winner is making a big difference in pioneering a new way to grow citrus in Florida.
Ed Pines has received the award for his work promoting growing citrus under protective screen (CUPS) to exclude the psyllid and therefore HLB. The practice is not new around the world, but it certainly is a departure from the norm for Florida’s citrus industry. His positive attitude as he takes the practice into reality on a commercial scale has garnered Pines multiple nominations for this year’s award.
While Pines says CUPS has potential benefits beyond excluding HLB, the current situation with the disease is not sustainable until a more permanent solution is uncovered by research or other means.
“The industry right now is shell shocked because we believe we are going to find a solution, but the reality is right now after 10 years, the trend of falling production has not changed,” Pines says. “So, we have to find our own solutions. There is no silver bullet. The silver bullet is changing your growing practices.”
No Man is an Island
With changing growing practices in mind, Pines began an extensive investigation with multiple stakeholders to learn more about CUPS. He says beyond growing practices, the collaboration among growers and industry stakeholders must grow stronger.
Pines’ collaboration — with UF/IFAS, who did the research on CUPS in Florida’s environment; Dundee Citrus Growers Association, where he is a board member; and Farm Credit of Central Florida, who helped finance his 20-acre CUPS planting — drove the project forward. ‘Tango’ and ‘Early Pride’ are planted on the farm in the soil, which Pines says helps ensure the superior Florida taste.
“When we first started looking at this CUPS project, I worked closely with collaborators and we all did our due diligence and studied all the data points to be sure the potential pitfalls didn’t outweigh the risk,” Pines says. “I am grateful to have been able to work with these people who are extremely smart, reliable, and honest through the very technical preplanning and engineering that was required to build this CUPS project on a commercial scale.”
The UF/IFAS research and data from other parts of the world suggest CUPS will work. Pines estimates (with his tree spacing) that by the fifth year, yields in the 800 boxes per acre range with very good packout should be possible.
“We expect to have a tree that is 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide,” he says. “You can hang two boxes on that tree. You go back to strong canopy growth. We have this information and we will be happy to share and work with folks on CUPS.”
The diligent planning for the project and ability to grow citrus without the looming threat of HLB was attractive to Farm Credit of Central Florida from a financing perspective.
“Farm Credit started working with Ed on the CUPS project in 2015,” says Chris Witmer, Agribusiness Relationship Manager with Farm Credit of Central Florida. “He came to the table with detailed plans through extensive research and a strong background in the citrus industry that spans 25 years. The project is strong conceptually and is utilized by citrus industry leaders around the world for fresh citrus production. While we understand CUPS is not a realistic solution for all growers, it is a unique approach to facing the challenges to the industry.”
The Dundee Complex
Using the knowledge gained from building Pines’ CUPS facility, the Dundee Citrus Growers Association is now moving forward on a project in Polk County to establish a 150-acre CUPS complex comprised of individually owned structures that will be used to grow high-quality premium Florida citrus. The size of the structures will vary, but in general will be 10 acres each.
“The complex will provide a secure environment and economies of scale in construction, structure maintenance, grove care, harvesting, and marketing,” says Steven Callaham, CEO of Dundee Citrus Growers Association.
“I believe the future of our industry will evolve around specialized and-long-term relationships like what the Dundee Citrus Growers Association CUPS project represents,” Pines says. “With a larger CUPS planting, growers can benefit from the use of specialized equipment, growing procedures, food safety protocols, harvesting, and marketing — all of which Dundee Citrus Growers Association will provide.”
Water Savings and Other Benefits
Pines says growing citrus under protective screen offers more than the ability to grow in an HLB-free environment. With 1,000 people moving to Florida every day, water resources will continue to be challenged. Water evapotranspiration under the structure is about 30% less. That in conjunction with Pines’ weather station and soil moisture probes allows Pines to be very precise with his irrigation. Nine months after planting the trees, he had only used 13% of his annual water withdrawal permit from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
“UF/IFAS research proved we could use less water with this system, and now we are making it reality on a commercial scale,” Pines says.
Pines adds that social media and the internet now help consumers to be more savvy about the food they buy and consume. They are demanding strong food safety and more sustainable production using less fertilizer, pesticides, and water — all of which CUPS allows.
“We will be able to market our growing practices under CUPS, while producing a high-quality and consistent product,” Pines says.
“Ed has seen the devastating effects of greening, canker, and other challenges over the years. His investment in this project speaks to his determination and faith in the success of Florida citrus. Investing in a project of this magnitude takes the right individual. Someone who can look beyond today and recognize the potential for innovative solutions, makes Ed a worthy recipient of the Citrus Achievement Award.
– Reggie Holt, President and CEO, Farm Credit of Central Florida
“Ed’s participation, motivation, and excitement for UF/IFAS CUPS project was an inspiration for me to keep advancing the science of growing healthy, profitable trees with the legendary taste that made Florida citrus famous. Not surprising, it was citrus greening that brought us closer together, driven by our common goal to find solutions. I am delighted Ed will be honored with this special award.”
– Arnold Schumann, Professor of soil fertility and water quality, UF/IFAS
“Ed reminds me of a quote from hockey-great Wayne Gretzky. When asked what gave him an edge over other players, he said: ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ Ed is working on the here and now, but he has one eye on where the industry is moving or should move. He is open and willing to share all that he is working on, but equally willing to admit what didn’t work and those things that remain obstacles for him. He knows each step that we take in this fight against HLB and the defense of our livelihood depends on the collective wisdom and expertise of everyone. Ed wants to contribute what he can and make effort to add more pieces to the puzzle — whether they came from him, researchers, other growers, or from around the world.
– Peter Chaires, Executive Director, New Varieties Development and Management Corp.
Word From The Sponsor
Arysta LifeScience and MICROMITE Insect Growth Regulator are proud to recognize the recipient of the 2017 Citrus Achievement Award from Florida Grower® magazine, Ed Pines. Pines was chosen as this year’s winner not just for his infectiously positive, attitude but for his pioneering effort to grow citrus under protective screening (CUPS) in order to eliminate the threats posed by Asian citrus psyllid and HLB. His work with the CUPS system has the potential to transform the citrus world by offering growers more sustainable practices and a way to combat new pests and diseases that are introduced as Florida’s economy and volume of imports expand. We hope you’ll join us in congratulating Ed Pines on this much-deserved honor.