Roller Coaster Ride Of A Year

Like recent years, the news in 2010 remained focused largely on citrus disease. While greening remains a significant threat to the industry, positive developments have occurred giving rise to hope that the industry can learn to live with the disease. But, that’s only part of the story Florida Grower brought you in the past year.

The Battle Rages On

Citrus greening has been described as one of the most difficult pest/disease complexes ever encountered. It is no wonder the entire citrus industry has put so much emphasis on seeking solutions to this devastating disease. In the past year, all of the work to lay the framework for research into the problem came into sharper focus through the work of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF). The foundation has supported 120 different projects aimed at finding solutions to citrus greening and canker. Its primary function is to facilitate rapid commercialization of any positive developments in the area of greening.
 
Another significant development in the fight against greening occurred in the past year with the report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to the citrus industry on how to address greening and other disease. The NAS provide 23 recommendations in the report aimed at short-term and long-term solutions. The most immediate and No. 1 recommendation from NAS was the establishment of citrus health management areas (CHMAs). In these areas, growers work together to coordinate sprays for psyllid control. These efforts have proven much more effective in reducing psyllid populations than growers simply acting alone. The calls for industry cooperation and establishing CHMAs were a major focus of this year’s Florida Citrus Mutual Conference in Bonita Springs. Since that meeting in June, several efforts are under way to establish CHMAs across the state. To learn more about CHMAs, go to www.crec.ifas.ufl.edu. For more about current and proposed greening research projects, visit the CRDF’s website at www.citrusrdf.org.

H-2A The Right Way

Concerns over labor and immigration enforcement remain high on the lists of many growers’ worries. The H-2A ag worker program can provide peace of mind that workers in the country under this program are here legally. However, many complain the program is too complicated and costly. In August, Florida Grower featured Justin Sorrells and his family’s custom grove care and harvesting business. They have used the program for more than a decade to bring in more than 400 temporary workers from Mexico annually. With years of experience, Sorrells says they have worked out the kinks in the program. He says it is critical to have an accurate recordkeeping system in place to handle the paperwork requirements of the government. Growers using the program must provide housing and transportation for the guestworkers, which is an added expense. But, Sorrells says the benefits of a guaranteed workforce, which is motivated to work hard and return legally to the U.S. in future years, outweighs the program’s downsides.

Focused On Foliar

Florida Grower first reported on Maury Boyd and his grove in Felda in January 2009. The story featured his use of foliar nutrition and systemic acquired resistance materials to extend the productive life of trees infected with citrus greening. Since the story ran, more and more growers and researchers are looking at foliar nutrition as a means of “keeping in the game” until more permanent solutions can be found for greening. In fact, many are learning the benefits of an aggressive foliar program outside of just living with greening. In September, Florida Grower featured Ben Hill Griffin Inc.’s foliar nutrition program on a young block of citrus on U.S. 27. The grove is growing rapidly into production, which is attributed to the company’s own foliar nutrition program.

Battling Black Spot

This year, citrus black spot (CBS) was confirmed in Florida, marking the first identification of the disease in the U.S. The disease creates lesions on fruit and will induce fruit drop in more severe cases. Two quarantine areas have been established in Hendry and Collier counties after CBS was spotted in groves. It is likely more quarantines will follow as the disease becomes established.
 
It is important for growers to be able to identify symptoms of CBS on fruit and learn proper control measures for the disease. In October, Florida Grower hosted a webinar on the disease to provide growers this critical information. Megan Dewdney, plant pathologist and Extension specialist with UF/IFAS, shared her expertise on CBS with webinar attendees. If you missed the live event, it may be viewed on demand at GrowingProduce.com.

Citrus Nursery Source

Always high on a grower’s wish list is new variety options. The good news for growers is a steady flow of new varieties are becoming available over the next couple of years. For that reason, Florida Grower launched a new department this year called Citrus Nursery Source. Peter Chaires, executive director of the New Varieties Development & Management Corp., provides a monthly update on new varieties and their fit in Florida’s citrus industry. This year, the Source has featured exciting new varieties like the Tango, an easy peel, virtually-seedless mid-season mandarin or the much anticipated Valquarius, a mid-season Valencia sweet orange. In the coming year, more exciting new varieties will be introduced with tips on how to get the most from these new selections.

Record Freeze

Last January’s freeze will go down in the history books. Between sinkholes and dry wells, growers and the public will not want to relive the two weeks of sub-freezing temperatures again. While roughly 70% of the winter vegetable crop in Southwest Florida was lost to the freeze, citrus fared pretty well, bouncing back from the frigid temps and producing a good crop. On the plus side, the freeze did help prices for OJ and fresh fruit, giving growers the best returns they’ve seen in a number of years.
 

Water Wars

Water has been a major issue in Florida during the past year. The biggest story in this area has been EPA’s intervention into the state’s affairs by establishing specific nutrient limits in urban and agricultural storm water runoff. In November, EPA announced its final ruling to the dismay of farm groups across the state. Many characterize EPA’s action as all costs with no benefits to the environment. Growers and city water treatment facilities will have 15 months to take the necessary steps to comply with the numeric criteria.
 
The Florida Department of Agriculture conducted a study in conjunction with University of Florida economists that estimates the total initial costs to Florida agriculture to implement all applicable practices under the numeric nutrient criteria will range from $855 million to $3.069 billion. EPA disputes the figure, estimating costs of $135 million to $206 million annually for all parties impacted by the ruling. In the face of these new EPA regulations, growers are encouraged to sign up for Florida’s best management practices as a means to provide proof of compliance.
In addition to nutrient criteria, EPA is considering a requirement for growers to apply for federal permits when making pesticide applications near or over water. According to Don Parish, senior regulatory director for legislative affairs for the American Farm Bureau, literally millions of applications could be impacted by the ruling. “When you consider the number of applications that could be involved and throw in more citizen lawsuits, this is teed up to be a disaster,” he said in a January Florida Grower article on the subject.
 
Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would void the permitting requirement.

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