In May of 2022 we at IMG Citrus planted our first Ruby Red grapefruit crop in our 13 acre CUPS (Citrus Under Protective Screen) structure. The CUPS structure is composed of a very tightly woven mesh screen that is sixteen feet tall and enclosed on all four sides with a roof. The installation is located at sister company Cherrylake in Groveland, Florida. Cherrylake was selected for its central location within the state, allowing for most protection from hurricanes. A bamboo hedge anticipated to reach 25 feet in height was planted a year prior to construction creating another barrier of protection from potentially damaging wind gusts.
This is a structure designed to protect citrus crops from greening. Greening occurs when a citrus psyllid, a pest that harbors the HLB bacteria, infects the tree. By eliminating greening, we can once again see normal growth, higher yields, and premium quality fruit. These citrus trees will produce fruit for juicing in about three years. The first commercial fresh fruit market crop will likely be ready for harvest in five years time.
“What is interesting about greening is that it has forced our industry to innovate and try things that are totally different and hopefully better,” says Melanie Ressler, Co-CEO at IMG Citrus.
Production Director Brian Randolph says it is an energizing time at IMG Citrus as the company experiments with innovative practices to successfully grow fruit in a greening environment. This experimentation has included planting of crops in higher density to bring them into production more quickly. Randolph adds that while their irrigation and nutrition program is built around growing trees in a greening environment, it also is built on sound stewardship.
“Everything we are doing has a high priority on protecting and preserving our resources. Given how agriculture is being negatively portrayed right now in that regard only reinforces our commitment,” Randolph says.
The Florida citrus industry has experienced countless challenges over the years; however, IMG Citrus has remained adaptable and resilient. Regardless of citrus greening (HLB), pests, hurricanes, freezes, or any other unknown that makes an appearance, we are always working toward innovative solutions to make practices better and stronger.