A Breeze of Technological Optimism

It’s old news to say that the Florida citrus industry has been in a downward spiral from the effects of HLB. Freezes, tropical storms, and other tree stresses only seem to exacerbate it. 

And while Citrus growers are some of the most tenacious people on Earth I know, they are tired of hearing the pep talks about their resiliency. We’ve heard it all before.

During the freezes in the ’80s, people said the industry was gone. When canker came, they said it would decimate the industry. When juice prices hit 45 cents/pound solids and it became hard to afford harvesting costs, they said the industry was gone for good. Each time the old timers said the industry would find a way. And it has.

But with HLB, those in the industry are worn down financially, emotionally, and physically. This might be the last season for some growers. 

However, there appears to be a breeze of optimism wafting through the citrus industry. Several advancements — including IPCs, new varieties, Gibberellic acid, symbionts, brassinosteroids and, most recently, tree injection practices — offer a ray of hope.

Research shows that using Tree Defender IPCs alone produced higher brix levels than control trees for the last three seasons after IPC removal.  According to Florida Citrus Mutual’s Matt Joyner, the NRCS cost share program for IPCs for next year will go to a per tree vs. per acre payment. Until then, they will work with producers to cost share on a “less than solid set basis” and calculate a payment on the percentage of the acre reset.  

Just beyond the horizon, there are some exciting microbial technologies we are developing in partnership with Radical Ag-Tech that could be another novel therapy.

Separately, these technologies might not seem to be the answer. However, these technologies can work synergistically with each other. This is vital because just as HLB exacerbates the other stresses negatively, these practices could help boost the effectiveness of each technology exponentially. 

Although things still appear somewhat bleak, I see more promise with these technologies in the past twelve months than I have over the last 10 years. 

Let’s hope this positive trend continues. With orange prices floating around $3 per/pound solids, there is still a lot of meat on the bone.

Bio: Scott Thompson is co-founder of Tree Defender, Radical Ag-Tech, and Care Planet Technologies. He is a Central Florida native with a background in agribusiness, food manufacturing, and bioscience.

This column is sponsored by Tree Defender, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFAN or of its advertisers.

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