Editor’s Note: This Q&A feature is the second a in series of six with the 2013 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Bobby Barben. The Avon Park-based grower also serves as the chairman of the Research Management Committee of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF).
Q: What are your thoughts on this past season’s fruit drop?
A: “Dr. James Graham, UF/IFAS, tells us citrus root systems are weakened by HLB. This was probably the worst year ever for fruit going on the ground. I hope in my heart of hearts that at least part of this past season’s fruit drop was due to combination of climate factors. I am hoping next season we can at least keep the good fruit on the trees. If the bad fruit goes on the ground, it is one thing, because we won’t be sending bad fruit to the processors to deal with.”
Q: What can growers do next season to address HLB?
A: My two most important things are a good nutritional program and psyllid control. Pull leaf samples in the fall to see if your trees are getting all they need in the right balance. Stay on a consistent spray program, do a good job in the middle of the grove and a great job on the borders.
Keep the trees out of stress. This fall and winter, I’m going to irrigate more often and put out some liquid fertilizer each month. Do the best you can for your roots and try to control diaprepes and phytophtora. I think topping trees to a manageable height is helpful. I want to top and hedge when trees normally flush, so I do these activities in the winter. If groves are still performing well, stay on that program.
If a rootstock is doing well in a particular site, keep planting that rootstock there. Rootstocks are getting a lot of attention right now. There may be some that perform better than others. But remember, no infected tree will do as well as an uninfected tree, so stay on a good soil drenching schedule. Soil pH, water pH, and microbes also are getting a lot of play in groves that aren’t doing as well. I’ll try anything that might help us with HLB.”