Florida and citrus groves have a long history together, with citrus being commercially farmed in Florida since the mid-1800's. In the mid-2000s Huanglongbing (HLB), or commonly known as citrus greening disease, entered the state, resulting in a significant decline in production and a fight for survival. To combat this decline and ensure a future for fresh Florida citrus, growers are turning to an innovative approach.
In 2014, Dr. Arnold Schumann from the University of Florida began researching Citrus grown Under Protective Screen, CUPS for short.
“CUPS may reduce insecticide use and further improve premium HLB-free fruit marketability by providing consumers with lower pesticide residues than equivalent outdoor fruit and with less impact on the environment,” says Dr. Schumann.
After learning of Dr. Schumann’s CUPS research, Ed Pines, a Dundee Citrus Growers Association (DCGA) board of director and President of EIP Citrus Management, LLC, brought it to the attention of DCGA in an attempt to commercialize the technology. In 2017, DGCA and EIP Citrus Management broke ground to develop 150 acres of CUPS. Today the project includes 10 individually owned, 11-acre structures which are fully managed by DCGA. The inside of a CUPS facility looks like a conventional citrus grove, but from the outside it looks like a series of large greenhouses.
The centrally located design of the CUPS complex allows the owners of the individual structures to take advantage of economies of scale. Specialized equipment including tractors, spraying equipment and high-tech irrigation and fertigation systems are shared throughout the CUPS complex. DCGA takes responsibility for general structure upkeep throughout the entire complex minimizing grower costs and preventing cross contamination.
“Have you been in a citrus grove today?” Steven Callaham, CEO of DCGA, asks visitors before entering the new CUPS facility. Callaham explains, “Quality control is a big concern when it comes to growing CUPS.” DCGA implemented stringent protocols to keep the Asian citrus psyllid known to carry HLB out. Those protocols include ensuring all specialized care-taking equipment stays onsite.
Brian Nisula of PM Citrus, a participant in the CUPS project, says “Seeing the quality of the trees and fruit that CUPS could produce led us to take an in-depth look into the commercial application of the CUPS growing systems.” Nisula continues, “Given the challenges of conventional growing methods in the current HLB environment in Florida and the consumer preference for high quality fresh fruit, we decided to deploy the CUPS growing system on our latest grove developments. The controlled environment of the CUPS system makes it an optimal choice for producing high quality citrus in Florida.”
Kyle Story of Story Companies adds, “The CUPS investment is another way for my family to diversify within the citrus industry. This gives us the opportunity to grow high quality fresh fruit in the HLB/ citrus greening era.”
The initial CUPS project has been completely built out and is now in the growing phase with a first harvest expected in 2020. Given the success of the CUPS complex and the interest in the project from industry participants, DCGA is currently in the process of a second phase of the CUPS project.
With all of the challenges faced by Florida citrus growers, it is exciting to see the innovative approaches growers are taking to secure a strong viable industry for future generations. Farm Credit supports Florida agriculture in many ways through these challenges and looks forward to partnering with growers as they develop new, innovative technologies and practices.
Check out this video about CUPS Innovation: https://bit.ly/2LjTbra