CUPS works to protect citrus trees

The IA awarded its 2021 Vanguard Award to the Citrus Under Protective Screen project in Florida.
BY ANNE BLANKENBILLER
The CUPS project involves growing citrus trees under a protective screen.
The CUPS project involves growing citrus trees under a protective screen.

Each year, the Irrigation Association awards one or more Vanguard Awards. These awards are not for individuals or companies; instead, they recognize innovative irrigation projects in the industry that are executed by a team of individuals, companies, organizations or other group entities. Projects chosen for this award exemplify the IA’s mission of promoting efficient irrigation.

The CUPS installation includes an automated irrigation and control system to monitor weather and soil conditions and to deliver precise amounts of water and nutrients to every tree.
The CUPS installation includes an automated irrigation and control system to monitor weather and soil conditions and to deliver precise amounts of water and nutrients to every tree.

The 2021 Vanguard Award was presented to the Citrus Under Protective Screen project conducted in Florida.

Known as CUPS, this project involved growing citrus under a protective screen structure in conjunction with precision irrigation and inputs to yield high-quality disease-free citrus while minimizing the use of water, fertilizer and pesticides. Using this relatively new, cutting-edge method to grow citrus required researching, designing and installing a highly technical, automated irrigation and control system to monitor weather and soil conditions and to deliver precise amounts of water and nutrients to every tree.

The companies involved with this project include Dundee Citrus Growers Association, a Florida-based fruit growing cooperative and the proprietor of the CUPS project; Agri Services International, the ag irrigation contractor responsible for the design, sourcing and installation of the irrigation systems used in the CUPS project; and Precision Citrus LLC, an agricultural construction company responsible for the design and installation.

Facing a challenge

Huanglongbing, generally referred to as citrus greening, has devastated the Florida citrus industry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection services considers this the most serious disease of citrus. An estimated 75% of Florida’s citrus production has been lost to the disease since 2005 when it was first detected in the state. The bacterial disease is primarily spread by insects known as psyllids. Once a tree is infected, there is no known cure and the tree typically dies within a matter of years.

Planting trees using the CUPS concept is an example of innovative-thinking to help ensure survival of the Florida citrus industry. The protective screen keeps the psyllids out, while allowing the citrus trees to grow in a controlled environment. CUPS has moved from the research stage into a commercial setting with the Dundee Citrus Growers Association as one of the earliest adopters. In short, the protective barrier of the CUPS system in conjunction with precision irrigation and inputs, is expected to yield high-quality disease-free citrus while minimizing the use of water, fertilizer and pesticides.

This project has seen success in its original goal with no psyllids detected and no incidents of citrus greening to date. It will be a few more years before definitive proof is available regarding long-term success. The oldest trees in the project are two years and will reach maturity by four to five years of age.

Through the planning and design of the project in Dundee, water usage is projected to be 35% less than conventional citrus developments, while pesticide and fertilizer usage are also projected to decrease. The partners involved in this CUPS project also project yields to be 850 boxes per acre relative to 300 boxes per acre in conventional citrus developments in the era of greening, while overall production costs are projected to be 35% less than conventional citrus developments.


Using this cutting-edge method to grow citrus would not have been complete without a highly technical, automated irrigation and control system to monitor weather and soil conditions and to deliver precise amounts of water and nutrients to every tree.


Utilizing irrigation technologies

Using this cutting-edge method to grow citrus would not have been complete without a highly technical, automated irrigation and control system to monitor weather and soil conditions and to deliver precise amounts of water and nutrients to every tree.

All phases of irrigation, fertigation and weather sensing with this project are automated by utilizing cloud-based controllers, weather stations, soil sensors and engine diagnostics. Hydraulic valves, in both the fertigation and irrigation systems, are actuated utilizing radio telemetry. Run cycles, for either irrigation or fertigation, are dictated by soil moisture, nitrogen levels, temperature and wind speed provided by the weather sensing equipment.

Anne Blankenbiller is the managing editor of Irrigation Today.
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