Though there was plenty to talk about and learn at the 2013 Florida Citrus Show, the hot topic of discussion was this season’s drastic fruit drop. More than 500 citrus growers, packers, marketers, and other industry-related professionals gathered at the Havert L. Fenn Center in Ft. Pierce for the 2-day short course/trade show presented by Florida Grower, the Indian River Citrus League, and UF/IFAS.
Due to recent reports of severe fruit drop across the state’s groves (worst season since 1969-1970, according to USDA-NASS), concern has turned to more about what’s on the ground as opposed to what’s on trees. “The amount of fruit on the ground is horrendous,” said Gene Albrigo, citrus horticulturist emeritus, UF/IFAS. “Many are attributing this to HLB.”
During his presentation on the subject (a late addition to the Show program to deal specifically with the urgent nature of the problem), Albrigo pointed out the usual suspects connected to general fruit drop, including warm, dry weather in the early fall and early bloom. “This year does not fit that scenario,” Albrigo said.
With no definitive pattern apparent in the review of comparative weather data over the last seven years, a closer look was needed, and it revealed more. “Weaker/die-back trees have a much higher rate of fruit on the ground than healthy trees,” Albrigo said. “This is not a high drop year for healthy trees.”
Dr. Harold Browning of the Citrus Research & Development Foundation said compromised trees are paying the price this season. “We’ve had conditions that led to stress (in trees) – more than heavy fruit drop.”
Albrigo said growers should expect this drop to continue on declining trees.
While the scope of HLB’s impact continues to grow, Browning says much time and effort are being spent looking at different HLB management therapies — several of which were discussed in detail during the course of the Show’s educational sessions. Both days, presenters played to a nearly packed room, particularly during the citrus pest management talks and the HLB research portion, which featured updates on scion and rootstock improvement, transgenic breeding efforts, and nutritional/antibiotic applied science. “There is probably not a silver bullet until we get a resistant plant,” Browning said. “One of these days, I or one of my colleagues are going to be standing up here saying ‘we got it.’ Until then, we have to move forward incrementally with studies.”