Numerous Florida citrus growers are experiencing heavy fruit drop this fall. “For some growers, it’s the worst fruit drop they have experienced; 50%-plus,” says grower Lee Jones with Cross Covered Caretaking.
Grower Jim Snively, with Southern Gardens Citrus, said he is hearing talk of around 30 to 50%-plus fruit drop. “I’m hearing pick-outs that are 20% to 70% below last year; the drop is the culprit in the areas with the greatest reduction,” says Snively.
According to Snively, the drop in South Florida started in late August and has been continuing. “In other areas of the state, Polk County and the west side of the state, it seems that the drop has just started and is not as intense.”
Jones reported seeing fruit drop across the state. “However, it appears that areas that had less rain and (groves that are) on a good root-health program are doing better,” he says.
“Hamlin and Midsweet are the varieties that are experiencing the drop at this time,” says Snively. “We are starting to see some early drop in Valencia.”
“Unfortunately, not only is the drop a concern, but the fruit quality is well below what we as an industry would like to see,” Snively, president of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, wrote in the recent association newsletter. “There are many areas that continue to have blocks that are not meeting the USDA minimum standards.”
“The minimum Brix requirement for processed oranges is 8.00,” Snively explains. “We are seeing field tests that are showing Brix levels below 8.00. In most cases, you have to wait to let the Brix build before you harvest. But in the meantime, fruit continues to drop and it starts to lose juice weight, which equates to a loss in pounds solids per box.”
Jones also weighs in on the failure of some fruit to meet USDA standards. “If the Brix/acid minimums are not met, then harvest is delayed,” he says. “However, the longer they (growers) wait, the worse the fruit drop.”
“At this point, all a grower can do is get his or her fruit harvested as quickly as possible,” Snively adds.
“But we all know we can’t send it all in at one time. I do feel that part of the reason for this phenomenon this year and last year is the multiple bloom that we experienced the last two years. Last year, we had bloom from November 2019 through March 2020. The warm weather that followed the moisture brought in by the cold fronts causes the tree to prematurely flush and bloom. This is even intensified on HLB-infected trees. There are researchers working on this issue, and I hope they figure it out soon. We know that HLB has a lot to do with this drop, but what is HLB doing that causes the tree to react in this way, and if we figure out what that is, is there anything we can do to prevent or offset this manifestation?”
“Anything a grower can do to increase root health will help,” Jones adds. “Also, getting the bloom synchronized; the late/early bloom increases the fruit drop percentage and decreases fruit maturity.”
Learn about University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers’ efforts to reduce fruit drop here.