Navel oranges are fairly tolerant of HLB, are popular and easy to sell, and offer a stable source of income that is only marginally related to worldwide supply and demand. Nevertheless, recently the Florida navel orange industry has experienced some tough times. Growers are questioning whether it is possible to grow navel oranges profitably in the future. Still, it’s definitely worth pursuing, because a high-quality Florida navel orange is among the best citrus grown anywhere in the world.
So, how can growers produce profitable, high-quality navel oranges today? The solutions lie with choices learned from the past and what’s to be found in the future.
Rootstock may be the biggest factor in growing high-quality navel oranges. The very best soil cannot overcome the effects of a rootstock that imparts inherently low quality. Most of the trees in older groves were on sour orange rootstock, which imparts high quality. Those older trees have largely succumbed to HLB, and most of the remaining blocks are on Swingle citrumelo. Navel oranges on Swingle grow a good-looking tree, but typically, the fruits have lower Brix and acid and tend to granulate prematurely.