Florida Grapefruit Grower Goes All In To Save Groves

It has been said that HLB has taken the romance out of growing citrus. Gone are the days when part-time attention could pass for producing the state’s signature crop. In the grips of greening, only the most focused, highest-input growers are slowing the disease.
Scott Lambeth, production manager for Golden River Fruit Company in Vero Beach, says he and many fellow growers he communicates with are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at HLB. And, he’d throw in the sink if he thought it would help.
The third generation grower says these are scary but exciting times.
“As stressful as this has become, it is exciting because every day is different and we are learning new things,” Lambeth says. “Trust me, I don’t dread it.”
The cooperative spirit among growers is one reason Lambeth has kept his confidence up in the face of HLB.
“We are competitors, but we all know we are in a dog fight with HLB and we are all in this together,” he says. “I spend a good part of my day on the phone or riding with other growers talking about what is working or not working. There are no secrets anymore.
“Before HLB, I never did any trial work with the chemical companies. Now, I do a lot of trial work with them. We have to look for answers everywhere we can.”

The fight against HLB is making those left standing better growers. Lambeth says he had one the largest crops in the past 10 years last season.
“I think one thing we all are seeing is the groves on good land look better, and groves on bad land are just OK, but they are not going backwards,” he says.

A Complete 180

How Lambeth is managing citrus today is 180 degrees different from how he was farming just three and four years ago. “We are throwing everything we have at HLB,” he says. “We don’t have a fall-back position. We are grapefruit growers, and we have to feed this packinghouse (Indian River Exchange Packers).”
Lambeth says he takes after his father in that he is willing to adopt the latest technology and techniques on the farm.
“My father was the first to put in plastic bins and go to all aluminum ladders for canker,” he says. “We were early adopters of optic graders and forced-air cooling in our old packinghouse.”
Because the groves and packinghouse are GlobalGAP certified, the farm has extremely detailed records, which makes tracking what works or doesn’t easier.
“The biggest thing we are doing differently is we are spoon feeding these trees fertility,” he says. “We are not applying the big slugs of ground fertilizer three times per year. We know the roots are getting decimated by HLB, so they can’t catch those big slugs anymore.”
Currently, Lambeth is using only two dry fertilizer applications per year and relying more on fertigation to deliver small splashes of fertilizer.
“I have been going with monthly fertigation, but next year, we are looking to move to bi-weekly or weekly fertigation,” Lambeth says.

Scott Lambeth, Golden River Fruit Co. Photo by Frank Giles
Scott Lambeth, Golden River Fruit Co.
Photo by Frank Giles

Lambeth counts himself fortunate in that he has been applying foliar nutrition for more than 10 years. He believes that gave him a little bit of a cushion when HLB came on the scene.
“Today, we are foliar feeding throughout the year with Plant Food Systems’ line of products,” he says. “Between the fertigation and foliar applications, we are hitting the tops and bottoms of these trees constantly to keep them at optimum nutrient levels.”
Another change related to fertilizer is gable-cut topping the trees. “I don’t think the roots can support much more size of a tree,” he says. “If I showed you the grove where I had my highest yield last season, those trees are 12 feet tall at the peak. We are learning you don’t have to have a big, tall tree to get five and six boxes of yield. We are doing it on tight, compact trees now.”
Lambeth also is evaluating a foliar product Cyan 365. It is an extract of 100% pure seaweed, which claims to improve photosynthesis of trees and promote healthier trees that are more resistant to disease.
“We are willing to try new things in this environment,” Lambeth says. “Some growers on the East Coast have had some promising results with Cyan, so we’ve been testing it on 750 acres of grove. We are seeing some positive results, so we will be applying on more acreage in the coming year.”

Topics: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Florida Grapefruit Grower Goes All In To Save Groves

Citrus Stories
Citrus
July 22, 2017
Representative from Washington Proposes Amendment to H-2A Program
Move broadens use of H-2A to all of agriculture to include those with multiple crops and harvests. Read More
Insect & Disease Update
July 21, 2017
University of California Launches Website to Update Growers on Citrus Research
Easy-to-read format designed to give growers up-to-date information on huanglongbing and Asian citrus psyllid research. Read More
Hurricane Matthew satellite image as it brushed past Florida
Citrus
July 20, 2017
Atlantic Hurricane Forecast Taken Up a Notch
Current conditions in the tropics warrant marked revision in potential storm season scenarios. Read More
Sunset on Florida potato field day
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Researchers On a Mission to Find More Places for Growing Produce
Federal grant to aid exploration of food security solutions for the future. Read More
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Farm Labor Stories Making the News This Week
The agricultural labor shortage is strong enough that the consumer press is beginning to report on it regularly. Here are the stories making headlines this month. Read More
farm hacks collage
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Florida Grower Magazine is Seeking Your Farm Hacks
Life hacks are common in social media threads these days. They are those clever ideas or tricks aimed at making Read More
Rain drops on leaf
Citrus
July 14, 2017
Everglades Agricultural Area Farmers Winning at Water Quality
Annual report shows use of best management practices results in another massive reduction in phosphorus flow. Read More
Citrus
July 13, 2017
The Road is Long to Farm Bill 2018 [Opinion]
Participation in this process will be crucial to ensure your needs are understood and addressed. Read More
2015 FFVA Annual Convention crowd
Citrus
July 13, 2017
Trade Talk to Top Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association Convention Agenda
Trade issues are top of mind these days for specialty crop producers. Efforts have been underway since early this year Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
Shaky Florida Citrus Season Skids to a Stop
Final USDA tally confirms continuing downward trend of production in the HLB era. Read More
Smaller John Deere tractor for use in citrus screenhouse
Citrus Achievement Award
July 12, 2017
Encourage New Citrus Growth by Getting Back to Basics
2017 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Ed Pines says producing crops under protective screen is a way to farm more and stress less. Read More
Beet-armyworms-on-a-tomato-plant
Citrus
July 12, 2017
Tomato Pests Can Be Induced to Cannibalism, New Study Shows
The University of Wisconsin's John Orrock says when beet armyworms are exposed to concentrations of methyl jasmonate, they will abandon eating tomatoes — and start eating one another. Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
USDA Pulls 8 Products from Approved Organic Production List
After a few months of speculation, the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has published its Sunset 2017 final rule on approved products for organic production and handling. Read More
Drone-aided photo of Ed Pines' CUPS
Varieties & Rootstocks
July 11, 2017
Florida Citrus Growers Going Inside to Think Outside the Box
Producing fruit under protective screen is developing into a viable option for sustaining the Sunshine State’s signature crop. Read More
Carl and Dustin Grooms of Fancy Farms
Business Planning
July 11, 2017
Young Florida Farmers Ready to Take the Reins
As growers age, the next generation is stepping up and stepping into leadership roles on the farm. Read More