By comparison, growers during the Florida citrus heydays of the 1980s might expect to generate a net annual operating profit in about a decade and repay the loan on orchard establishment costs three to four years after that, Castle says.
Spyke says the cost of establishing a grove with full open hydroponic systems and advanced production systems features can be two to three times higher than the estimated $1,000 to $1,200 per acre to plant new groves with lower tree densities and a manually operated microjet system. The main cost increase comes from the greater number of trees, with additional cost increases due to the more high-tech equipment. Once the grove is planted, Spyke says he is finding that costs in the first few years are much lower per-acre than conventional microjet blocks, and only about half the per-tree cost of conventional.
In later years, though, management costs will be higher because of some hand pruning and other hand labor requirements. However, Spyke says he believes growers can offset those extra costs by reducing herbicide use, eliminating broadcast fertilizer applications, automating irrigation operations, and reducing maintenance on micro-irrigation lines and emitters.
“We are talking about revolutionizing how you are farming,” he says. “It’s much more management intensive and takes a lot more attention. The only similarity is in the plant material. Even the way you monitor and spray for pest and disease control is entirely different. But, in my opinion, it doesn’t make sense to plant a new grove any other way.”
They payoff should come with early yields, Spyke says.
“In a conventional grove, you are going to hit 300 to 400 boxes by year eight,” he says. “We expect to be yielding 300 to 400 boxes to the acre by the time trees are 3 years old. The advantage with open hydroponics and advanced production are going to be in year 3, 4, 5 and 6.”