Editor’s Note: This Q&A is the fourth 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).
Do you agree with the early, lower crop estimates, and how does the fruit look in your groves?
Barben: I would not argue with the early fruit estimates. The groves that we look at have a few less pieces of fruit than last year and maybe smaller sizes. That seems a little strange with all of the rain that we have had, but in the groves we look after, we expect a little smaller crop. Of course, the real unknown is what the drop is going to be. Generally, groves look very good, except for poorly drained groves. The rain has been beneficial. We may experience more brown rot than normal, but most groves look very good.
Do you believe Florida citrus growers could benefit from adopting more precision ag technologies?
Barben: I’m a big fan of variable rate fertilizers and spray machines. The money that is saved from not spraying or fertilizing open spaces seems like a no-brainer. And, it is surely more environmentally friendly. Weather stations, soil probes, or any other tool that helps us save water, diesel, and the time and effort to check rain gauges and thermometers is increasing in importance as inputs become more dear.
Do you agree with the assessment that it is very important to keep HLB-infected trees out of stress as much as possible?
Barben: Yes. We see them drop their fruit and leaves and generally look terrible during those high-stress times. How to keep them out of stress is going to be the trick everyone is still learning. What I’m going to do this winter is try to keep the plants hydrated by more frequent, but less duration irrigation cycles. Also, we are going to stretch our fall fertilizer into the winter by injecting a little each month. I’m not sure how this will work out. I don’t want to overdo it and make our trees more vulnerable to cold damage. At this point, we all need to have an open mind and be as innovative as possible.