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J.J. Ferguson and G.D. Israel

Although a major freeze has not affected the Florida citrus industry since 1989, growers continue to rank cold protection as an important information need. A moderate freeze during 1996 further emphasized the need to document current cold protection and related management practices. A statewide survey conducted in 1996 indicated that the National Weather Service and commercial radio or television were the primary sources of weather information in 1996, but when asked where they would obtain agricultural weather forecasts after 1996, growers indicated they would rely more on commercial radio or television, private meteorologists and the extension service. Grower awareness of the effectiveness of cold protection methods decreased with temperature and with grower production experience. Microsprinklers were the most commonly used method for both cold protection and irrigation. Fifty percent of growers surveyed used computers for grove management, primarily for financial record keeping, with younger growers more likely to use computers than older growers. The percentage of growers with small groves is decreasing while the percentage of growers with large groves is increasing.

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J.J. Ferguson and G.D. Israel

During Summer 1996, a disproportionate systematic sampling procedure was used to obtain an initial sample of 955 citrus growers from the mailing lists of extension agents in 27 counties. Of these, 451 usable responses were returned (67% response rate), providing an expected error of ± 4.3% with a 95% confidence interval. Surveyed growers obtained weather information during the 1995–96 winter from multiple sources, including the National Weather Service (NWS) (48%), commercial radio/TV (48%), Extension offices (18%), private meteorologists (9%), and other sources (10%). After the NWS discontinued agricultural freeze forecasts in Apr. 1996, growers indicated they would rely on commercial radio/TV (72%); private meteorologists (20%), and their County Extension Office (32%) for weather reports. When deciding which cold protection method to use, respondents adopted Extension (35%) and consultants' recommendations (30%), assessed the costs and benefits of cold protection (32%), and assessed risks based on grove history (38%). Cold protection methods used by percent respondents included: flooding groves (22%); grove heaters (2%); wind machines (2%); permanent overhead irrigation systems (2%); ground microsprinklers (76%); in-tree microsprinklers (18%); tree wraps (13%); and tree wraps or covers with microsprinklers (6%). Seventy-three percent of growers reported that their cold protection methods were very effective for a freeze with minimum temperatures of –2°C for at least 4 hr, with 12% and 3% reporting cold protection measures being very effective at –7 and –9°C, respectively.

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J.J. Ferguson, C.L. Taylor, and G.D. Israel

Six comprehensive surveys of the Florida citrus industry (345,645 ha), published from 1989 to 1993 as extension bulletins, provide information essential for long-range research and extension program planning and evaluation. These surveys documented changes in production practices, regional priorities for extension programming, marketing trends, and grower ranking of information sources. While formal, comprehensive surveys may be a valuable tool in long-range extension programming for large horticultural industries, more rapid, creative survey methods and educational programs may be needed for more timely programs and for specialized industry groups.