Get Creative to Plant and Protect New Citrus

2019 Citrus Achievement Award winner Bob Behr

2019 Citrus Achievement Award winner Dr. Robert Behr of Florida’s Natural not only knows the importance of growing the Sunshine State’s signature crop, but also protecting it.
Photo by Frank Giles

This is the second installment of four special features honoring the 2019 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner, Bob Behr, CEO of Florida’s Natural Growers and Citrus World. Special thanks to UPL USA for sponsoring the Citrus Achievement Award program.

Why did you decide to join the Dundee Citrus Growers Association’s citrus under protective screen (CUPS) project in Polk County?
Behr: The CUPS project was of interest to my partner and me in phase one of their project. It is certainly innovative. Commercially, its success has yet to be determined. But on paper, it allows you to produce a crop under cover without the risk of psyllids infecting the trees with greening. It also allows the trees to grow and be extremely productive. The CUPS project is using the latest tree architecture, fertigation techniques, and the best thinking on what makes trees grow well and produce fruit. Research suggests the yield for both tangerines and grapefruit are expected to be 800 to 1,000 boxes per acre. Tangerines and grapefruit are going to have their challenges over the next 10 years because of greening. If you can produce good quality fruit indoors at those production levels and current prices, it could serve as a model to maybe save the fresh citrus industry as it relates to greening.

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What is Florida’s Natural Growers doing to encourage its members to plant more trees?
Behr: We felt we needed to encourage our members to go out and plant. They needed some sort of incentive and some means to reduce the risk of planting. So, we developed a program where we provided a $10 per tree loan to the grower, if the grower goes out and replants. And if they stayed with Florida’s Natural for 10 commercial crops, that loan would be forgiven.

Today, we have more than 1.4 million trees that have been put in the ground as a result of this program. We are thrilled with it. We did a similar incentive to encourage lemon tree plantings for 50,000 trees. It was quickly snapped up by our members.