Producing the early bird

10/01/2008 02:00:00 AM
Marni Katz




Florida citrus grower Pete Spyke is staking the future of his citrus management company on an advanced hydroponics system designed to bring citrus trees into production and profitability early.


The revolutionary production system on trial at Arapaho Citrus Management Inc., Citra, was adapted from a similar system Spyke discovered while on tour in South Africa in 2006. In an era when canker and greening are limiting the long-term viability of Florida citrus groves, Spyke says he believes the high-density system and specifically timed and formulated daily pulses of water and nutrients will speed his return on investment and make citrus operations more profitable.


Spyke had removed about two-thirds of his 120 acres of citrus he grows for his retail fruit store in Citra and was looking to replant. 


“I wanted to replant, but we had greening in the area and I wanted to first see what growers in South Africa, where they have greening, were doing about the problem,” he says. “What we found they have been doing is using an approach we are calling open hydroponics systems and advanced production systems.”


This involves selecting scion-rootstock combinations and tree spacings to create managed high-density plantings that will bring groves into higher production earlier, says Bill Castle, a horticulture professor at University of Florida’s Citrus Research and Education Center at Lake Alfred. The groves are irrigated through an open hydroponics system, which uses short, regular bursts of drip irrigation to spoon feed water and specially formulated nutrients to the trees’ dense root zone.




Make a profit earlier


In 2007, Arapaho Citrus dedicated a 10-acre block of grapefruit and minneola tangelos to look at the variables of the two systems. Trees are planted on replicated blocks with 6-foot and 8-foot spacings and two different rootstocks. The trial also is set up to compare various drip schedules and nutrient mixtures. The idea is for growers to make their profits before the trees become vulnerable to canker or greening.

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