Florida’s grapefruit industry, struck so heavily by citrus greening disease, may find hope in four white-mesh screenhouses in a research field in Fort Pierce, thanks to a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded to the University of Florida.
Studies for the grant will take place inside and outside these screenhouses, where 512 young “Ray Ruby” grapefruit trees are already in production since September 2013. The project focuses on growing and protecting high-quality fresh grapefruit inside 14-feet-high screenhouses, or “Citrus Under Protective Screen,” also known as CUPS.
Trees have recently been grown in screenhouses to shield the crop from the Asian citrus psyllid, an invasive insect that carries the pathogen that causes huanglongbing, or HLB, commonly known as citrus greening.
The pathogen has reduced Florida’s citrus production, including grapefruit and oranges, from 292 million boxes during the 2003 through 2004 production season to fewer than 78 million boxes at the end of the 2016 through 2017 growing season, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Florida citrus statistics.
A major goal of the grant is to develop a sustainable integrated growing system for fresh market citrus. Research topics include integrated pest and disease management, automated robotic pest scouting, canopy management, advanced fertigation, selective light spectrum enhancement, rootstock and scion evaluation and comprehensive economic analysis.
According to an article on blogs.ifas.ufl.edu, the funded project will also support new CUPS research in California, to be located at the Lindcove Research and Education Center of the University of California.