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Jacqueline K. Burns, Richard S. Buker III and Fritz M. Roka

An abscission agent [5-chloro-3-methyl-4-nitro-1H-pyrazole (CMNP)] was applied to `Hamlin' and `Valencia' orange (Citrus sinensis) trees at concentrations ranging from 0 to 500 ppm in a volume of 300 gal/acre. Four days after application, fruit were mechanically harvested with either a trunk shake-and-catch or a continuous canopy shake-and-catch system commercially used in Florida. Harvesting conditions were varied by limiting the actual trunk shake time of the trunk shaker to 2, 4, or 7 seconds, or by altering the ground speed of the canopy shaker (1.0, 1.5, or 2.0 mph). In general, increasing duration of shake and the application of CMNP increased percent mature fruit removal and decreased the amount of fruit remaining in the tree. Increasing CMNP concentration decreased fruit detachment force but increased post-spray fruit drop. Comparison of short duration shake times in CMNP-applied trees with trees harvested at longer durations either sprayed or not sprayed with CMNP indicated no significant difference in percent mature fruit removal. The results demonstrate that CMNP application increases harvesting capacity of trunk and canopy shakers by reducing time necessary to harvest each tree while maintaining high percent mature fruit removal.

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Richard S. Buker*, Jackie K. Burns and Fritz M. Roka

Continuous canopy shakers (CCS) were developed in the late 90's and have been used to commercially harvest citrus in Florida. A viable mechanical harvester in Florida must be able to selectively remove mature `Valencia' fruit. A study was conducted to evaluate the effect of operating conditions on mature and immature fruit removal during the 2003 harvest season. The study was conducted in the southern flat woods and northern ridge areas. The study treatments were completely random and replicated four times. The CCS treatments were 145, 215, 230, and 245 cycles per minute (cpm) and a hand picked control. The harvest occurred on 17 and 19 June at the southern and northern sites, respectively. Mature fruit removal linearly increased from 95.7% to 97.9% between 145 and 245 cpm, respectively. Varying the operating ranges significantly influenced mature fruit removal in the southern flat woods site. The trees at the southern site were taller (>4m), and had a larger crop load. At the northern ridge site where trees were smaller, varying the CCS operating ranges did not significantly influence mature fruit removal. Immature fruit removal was influenced by the operating ranges. Immature fruit removal was increased at least 22% over hand picked controls. The results were interpreted to indicate the frequency of CCS is dependent on tree size. The initial selectivity of the CCS was not equal to hand picking.

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Jacqueline K. Burns*, Richard S. Buker and Fritz M. Roka

A study was initiated in `Hamlin' orange to determine if a selective citrus abscission material, 5-chloro-3-methyl-4-nitro-1H-pyrazole (CMNP), could improve mature fruit removal and recovery when used with mechanical harvesters. A trunk shaker and continuous-moving canopy shaker equipped with catch-frames were used at the flatwoods and ridge growing regions in Florida. Both trials were conducted during the first 2 weeks of Dec. 2003. Plots were constructed as randomized complete blocks containing four replicates for each treatment. Each replicate contained five trees at the ridge site or four trees at the flatwoods site. CMNP was applied using a commercial airblast sprayer at 0, 125, 250 and 500 mg·L-1 at a rate of 2,800 L·ha-1 4 days before scheduled harvest. The trunk shaker was operated for either 7 seconds or 2 seconds/tree, whereas the canopy shaker was operated at either 260 cpm or 140 cpm/tree. The data show that the correct time was selected for harvest. Over a 50% reduction in FDF was achieved with the 250 and 500 mg·L-1 treatments, while post-application fruit drop was less than 1.5%. The greatest benefit of abscission agent use was seen when the mechanical harvesters were operated at the least aggressive setting (2 seconds or 140 cpm), where increases in % fruit removal and recovery were over 20% higher than the controls. At the most aggressive settings, numeric increases in % fruit removal and recoveries were measured, but these changes were not statistically significant. The results demonstrated that statistically similar % fruit removal and recoveries could be achieved using less aggressive harvester settings with abscission agent use when compared with most aggressive settings using no abscission agent.

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Kent Cushman, Sanjay Shukla, Gregory Hendricks, Thomas Obreza, Fritz Roka and Eugene McAvoy

Florida is one of the leading states in the United States in watermelon production, and on-farm management of nutrients and water is an important issue in the state. A management strategy using higher-than-recommended rates was compared to two strategies using recommended rates. A systems approach was used to define treatments: (HR) high rate of 265 pounds per acre (lb/ac) N, 170 lb/ac P2O5, 459 lb/ac K2O, and soil moisture content of 16% to 20% via seepage irrigation, (RR) recommended rate of 150 lb/ac N, 100 lb/ac P2O5, 150 lb/ac K2O, and soil moisture content of 8% to 12% via seepage irrigation, and (RR-S) equal to RR but irrigation provided by subsurface drip tubing. Large quarter-acre plots were used for each experimental unit. `Tri-X 313' was interplanted with `Mardi Gras' during Spring 2004 and with `SP-1' during Spring 2005 in a RCB design with two replications at the SWFREC in Immokalee. Leaf tissue analyses, petiole sap, and biomass accumulation were recorded each season. Watermelons were harvested at least twice each year and fruit were counted and weighed individually from three subplots within each plot. At least five fruit from each subplot were cut open for internal evaluation. Leaf nitrogen and potassium content for HR was consistently greater than that of RR or RR-S. Yields of HR were 41% to 50% greater than the two RR treatments. Yield was 1089, 704, and 775 hundred-pound units per acre (cwt/ac) in 2004 and 801, 541, and 533 cwt/ac in 2005 for HR, RR, and RR-S, respectively. Soluble solids content and hollowheart incidence were not affected by treatment. Our results indicate HR was more productive than RR or RR-S and may justify the higher inputs associated with this management strategy.

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Monica Ozores-Hampton, Eric Simonne, Fritz Roka, Kelly Morgan, Steven Sargent, Crystal Snodgrass and Eugene McAvoy

With increasing environmental concerns, the sharp cost increase of fertilizer and the absence of a soil test to predict nitrogen (N) needs of tomato (Solanum lycopersicon L.) grown on Florida’s sandy soils, a partnership was created with growers, state agencies, and the University of Florida, Institution of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The objectives of this study were to identify a range of N rates that would result in highest yields and postharvest quality, and maximum economical return for tomato, grown with subsurface irrigation (management of a perched water table above an impermeable soil layer or hard pan) during the spring season (low probability of leaching rain events). The study was conducted in Spring 2007 and 2008 in Palmetto, FL, with N rates ranging from 22 to 470 kg·ha−1 at pre-plant as ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3). Weather conditions were typical of a dry spring season in central Florida with no leaching rain events recorded in either year; however, rain patterns were different between the 2 years. In the absence of leaching rain and frost protection (either may raise the water table), petiole sap NO3-N decreased over time and the rate of decline depended on the N fertilizer rate. Extra-large and total marketable fruits yields showed a quadratic plateau response to N rates with maximum yields at two harvests (97% of the yields) grown with 172 and 298 kg N/ha in 2007 and 2008, respectively. During subsequent ripening, N rate did not correlate consistently to fruit ripening rate, fruit firmness, nor compositional quality at table-ripe stage. The high value of tomatoes relative to the cost of N fertilizer created a situation in which the profit-maximizing rate of N was not significantly different from the production-maximizing N rate. Whether the profit-maximizing level of N was higher or lower than the UF/IFAS-recommended rate depended on the growing season. With favorable growing conditions (i.e., conditions in 2008), a grower’s net return would have decreased between $1000 and $2000 per hectare by using UF/IFAS-recommended rates depending on market conditions. However, if the UF/IFAS-recommended rate of 224 kg·ha−1 resulted in the highest yield, applying upwards of 300 kg·ha−1 would have increased grower production costs by at least $67/ha. Although fertilizer costs are known before the crop is grown, tomato prices are realized only at the end of the growing season and profit margins can only be calculated after the fact.

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Robert E. Rouse, Monica Ozores-Hampton, Fritz M. Roka and Pamela Roberts

Citrus trees affected by huanglongbing (HLB) become diminished, weak, and develop dieback resulting in reduced production. Decline in fruit yield ultimately prevents economically acceptable commercial citrus production. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the effects of severe pruning in combination with an enhanced foliar nutritional treatment on growth, yield, and juice quality of HLB-affected orange trees. The bacterial titer within the trees was monitored before and after treatments, and a cost–benefit analysis provided an economic evaluation of the treatments. Fifteen-year-old ‘Valencia’ orange (Citrus sinensis Macf.) trees on Swingle citrumelo rootstocks [C. paradisi × Poncirus trifoliata (L.) Raf.] with 100% incidence of HLB, confirmed by real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), were severely pruned back to the main scaffold branches. Between 2010 and 2015, foliar nutrients were sprayed on both pruned and nonpruned trees to target new flush growth. Three enhanced nutritional foliar treatments were evaluated and compared with a control foliar nutritional treatment that was considered to be a standard practice before endemic HLB. The enhanced nutritional treatments included a mixture of micro- and macronutrients commonly known as the “Boyd cocktail,” a micronutrient package labeled Fortress © (Florida Phosphorus LLC, Key Largo, FL) sprayed with potassium nitrate (KNO3), and the Fortress © micronutrient package sprayed with urea. The experiment was a split-plot with seven replications, with pruning as the main plots, and a foliar nutritional treatment as subplots. Tree pruning was performed in Feb. 2010 before the spring flush. Pruned trees grew longer shoots than the controls the year after pruning. Canopy volume and leaf area were greater with nonpruned trees, but the chlorophyll content per cm2 leaf area was higher in the pruned trees compared with nonpruned trees in 3 years of the 5-year experiment. Pruned and nonpruned trees bloomed and set fruit the first year of the experiment in the spring of 2010–11. The fruit crop for the 2010–11 and 2014–15 seasons, and the overall total fruit crop for the 2010–15 season on pruned trees were significantly lower than those on nonpruned trees. However, no significant yield differences were found between pruned and nonpruned trees in the 2011–12, 2012–13, and 2013–14 growing seasons. Fruit yields from pruned trees never surpassed the yields from nonpruned trees, and this was possibly due to the severe-pruning treatment. Thus, severe pruning, as used in this trial, was not cost effective through the first 5 years after pruning. The rapid regrowth response of the pruned trees, however, may indicate that a reduced pruning approach could be effective at rejuvenating the HLB-affected trees, and an alternative to tree removal and replanting. Enhanced foliar nutrition treatments provided some yield benefits, especially in the early years of the trial. However, the enhanced foliar nutrition treatments did not prove to be cost effective.

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Jacqueline K. Burns, Fritz M. Roka, Kuo-Tan Li, Luis Pozo and Richard S. Buker

An abscission agent (5-chloro-3-methyl-4-nitro-1H-pyrazole [CMNP]) at 300 mg·L–1 in a volume of 2810 L·ha–1 was applied to Valencia orange trees [Citrus sinensis (L.) Osb.] on 22 May 2004. At this time, immature and mature fruit were present on the tree simultaneously. Three days after application, fruit were mechanically harvested using a trunk-shake-and-catch system. The power to the shaker head was operated at full- or half-throttle (FT or HT, respectively), and the duration of trunk shaking was 2 seconds at FT or 4 seconds at FT and HT. Mature fruit removal percentage and number of immature fruit removed, and fruitlet weight and diameter were determined. Mature fruit removal percentage with 2 seconds at FT or 4 seconds at FT harvesting ±CMNP, or 4 seconds at HT + CMNP was not significantly different and ranged between 89% to 97%. Harvesting at 4 seconds HT without CMNP removed significantly less mature fruit than any treatment. CMNP did not affect immature fruit removal by the trunk shaker. Harvesting at 4 seconds at HT removed significantly less immature fruit than 2 seconds at FT or 4 seconds at FT. No significant difference in fruitlet weight or diameter was measured between any trunk shaker harvest operation and CMNP treatment. Trunk shaking frequency was estimated to be 4.8 and 8.0 Hz at HT and FT, respectively. Yield in 2005 was determined on the same trees used for harvest treatments in 2004. CMNP did not impact yield. No significant difference in yield was seen between the hand-picked control and 4 seconds at HT, whereas yield in the remaining treatments was lower. The results demonstrate that CMNP application combined with low frequency trunk shaker harvesting can achieve high percentage of mature fruit removal with no significant impact on return yield of the following crop.

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Kelly T. Morgan, Smita Barkataky, Davie Kadyampakeni, Robert Ebel and Fritz Roka

One of the primary reasons for the slow adoption of mechanical harvesting by Florida citrus growers is the physical injuries associated with it, including loss of leaves, twigs, flowers, and young fruits, limb breakage, and injuries to the bark and root. However, it has been shown that well-managed trees are capable of tolerating defoliation, limb loss, and root and bark injury caused by mechanical harvesting. Irrigation management is one of the most crucial factors that influence citrus tree health. A multiple-year field study was conducted on ‘Valencia’ sweet orange trees in a commercial citrus grove near Immokalee, FL, to determine the effect of initial tree canopy density and short-term drought stress on tree health, water uptake, and productivity of mechanically harvested trees. Three blocks were based on canopy density and overall appearance and indicated as low, moderate, and high canopy density. The experiment was laid in a split-plot design with four replications of six-tree plots of hand-harvested or mechanically harvested trees, taking drought stress or full irrigation as main treatments. The experimental design was repeated with trees in each plot of one of the three canopy density categories. After harvest, each six-tree plot was split into two three-tree subplots, where one subplot was drought-stressed and the other was fully irrigated. Harvesting was conducted in the Spring of 2010, 2011, and 2012 with the same experimental design and data collection procedures. The effects of short-term drought on water use and stem water potential were masked by heavy rains in Spring 2010 and thus no differences in the irrigation treatments were observed. In 2011 and 2012, stem water potential was unaffected by harvesting method. Water use was unaffected by harvesting method across the 3 years. Drought stress significantly increased pull force required to remove fruit and stem water potential after harvest. Although mechanically harvested trees lost leaf mass, with no rain before harvest, results from Spring 2011 and 2012 indicated that short-term drought stress had no effect on citrus leaf area irrespective of harvest method. Drought stress significantly increased fruit detachment force in low and moderate density but not in high-density trees resulting in increased force required to remove fruit from trees with moderate- to low-density canopies. Yield increased from 2010 to 2011 for mechanically harvested trees compared with hand-harvested for low-canopy density trees by 17% and moderate-canopy density trees by 8%, whereas high-density plots indicated similar yield after mechanical harvesting. Comparatively, yield in 2012 decreased in the low and moderate densities compared with yield in 2011 but increased in the high density by 14% and 53% in hand- and machine-harvested trees, respectively. Despite finding 2- to 3-fold more debris in the mechanically harvested trees than the hand-harvested trees, yields and other measured parameters were unaffected suggesting that mechanical harvesting of citrus trees did not have an adverse effect on growth and production of well-watered citrus trees.

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Robert C. Ebel, Jacqueline K. Burns, Kelly T. Morgan and Fritz Roka

This study was conducted to determine the relationship of 5-chloro-3-methyl-4-nitro-1H-pyrazole (CMNP) concentration and canopy shaker frequency on fruit detachment force, pre-harvest fruit drop, and mechanical harvesting fruit removal of ‘Hamlin’ and ‘Valencia’ sweet orange cultivars. CMNP was applied at 0, 200, and 300 mg·L−1 in a carrier volume of 2806 L·ha−1. Four days after CMNP application, fruit were harvested with a canopy shaker that was operated at 3.0, 3.7, and 4.3 Hz at a tractor speed of 1.6 km·h−1. The experiment was repeated 3× for ‘Hamlin’ (December, early January, and late January) and twice for ‘Valencia’ (March and April) during the 2008–2009 harvest season. Fruit detachment force was reduced by at least 50% for all CMNP-treated trees compared with the untreated controls at the time of harvest and was lower for 300 mg·L−1 than 200 mg·L−1 on three of the five dates tested. Pre-harvest fruit drop evaluated immediately before mechanical harvesting was higher for all CMNP-treated ‘Hamlin’ than untreated controls at all harvest dates, whereas 300 mg·L−1 application resulted in higher pre-harvest fruit drop in ‘Valencia’ when compared with 200 mg·L−1 or the untreated controls on both application dates. CMNP-induced fruit drop was higher in ‘Hamlin’ than ‘Valencia’. CMNP had a greater effect on fruit removal at lower canopy shaker frequencies. The interaction of total fruit weight removed was not significant on any date as a result of variability among trees in the study. These data indicate that the amount of loosening by CMNP was concentration-dependent and facilitated removal, especially with lower canopy shaker frequencies. Development of viable commercial practices should use the percent of the total crop harvested and not the actual weight of fruit removed in determining efficacy of CMNP and harvest efficiency of the mechanical harvesters.

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Gregory S. Hendricks, Sanjay Shukla, Kent E. Cushman, Thomas A. Obreza, Fritz M. Roka, Kenneth M. Portier and Eugene J. McAvoy

Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) production is concentrated in southern Florida where growers often use seepage irrigation. According to a recent survey, growers believe that nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) rates recommended by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF-IFAS) are low. A study was conducted during Spring 2004 and 2005 at a UF-IFAS research farm to compare three nutrient and water management systems: high rate [HR (265, 74, and 381 lb/acre N, P, and K, respectively)], recommended rate [RR (150, 44, and 125 lb/acre N, P, and K, respectively)], and recommended rate with subsurface irrigation (RR-S). Irrigation was managed to keep soil moisture content at 16% to 20% for HR and 8% to 12% for RR and RR-S. The experimental design was a randomized complete block design with two replications and three subsample areas within each 0.25-acre plot. The HR management approach produced ≈60% to 80% higher yields (cwt/acre) during 2005 than RR or RR-S. The HR treatment produced larger watermelons than RR or RR-S in 2005. Triploid watermelon prices had to be at least $3.74/cwt to cover all costs associated with HR. The HR approach increased the grower net returns by $590/acre and $1764/acre under conservative and higher yield and price expectations, respectively. Soluble solids content and hollowheart ratings were unaffected by treatment. Total biomass, recorded during 2005, followed a similar trend as yield, with HR producing 105% and 125% greater total dry weight than RR and RR-S, respectively. Total N content of HR biomass was 56% higher than that of RR and RR-S. Total P content was 29% and 50% higher than that of RR and RR-S, respectively. Leaf and petiole tissue from the HR treatment exhibited consistently higher N and K leaf tissue values during 2005 than RR and RR-S. In conclusion, trends in the data consistently showed greater plant performance with higher rates of fertilizer and soil moisture content. Our ability to detect differences in 2005 was probably enhanced by higher rainfall during 2005 compared with 2004.