BARTOW, Fla. — Citrus Greening has growers trying all sorts of things, to figure out how to combat the disease and grow fresh fruit. 

  • Project could bring hundreds of jobs to area from construction to packing
  • It's a costly experiment with risks, namely hurricanes
  • First harvest of grapefruit, tangerines expected in Fall 2020
  • More Polk County headlines

In Bartow, the Dundee Citrus Growers Association has undertaken a massive experiment, lining 80 Ft. Road with screened in citrus trees. There are 10 pods, filled with around 30,000 citrus trees total. They're a mixture of red grapefruit and tangerine trees. 

"It's huge for us. The whole fresh industry in Florida. The ones that pack fruit that goes to grocery stores and goes on the shelf. It’s been so challenging for our industry to grow high quality fruit with HLB or citrus greening disease," said Steve Callaham, CEO of Dundee Citrus Growers Association.

The Citrus Under Protective Screen project, or CUPS for short, is supposed to protect the trees from insects who spread the disease.

Trees have been planted for all of Phase I, which is 110 acres. Another 113 acres are under construction. (Stephanie Claytor/Spectrum News)

“We deploy every technologically advanced technique that we can in these structures. From the weather stations that we have monitoring temperature, humidity, wind speed, monitoring soil moisture inside,” Callaham explained. 

University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences Professor Arnold Schumann, who has been growing citrus under screens for five years and researching the results, said grapefruit is increasingly rare here. 

“For grapefruit, it’s almost extinct. You almost can’t get any at all. They’ve dried up, the supply,” said Schumann.

He said this costly experiment comes with risks. 

“The big unknown risk factor is the hurricanes. If you didn’t have that it’d be pretty easy to say with good confidence it’s going to work. That’s the wild card that could throw things out,” Schumann said. 

The Dundee Citrus Growers Association is going full steam ahead, spending millions on the project.  Its CEO is pretty confident the screens will withstand a hurricane. 

“They are engineered structures and they’re engineered to withstand up to 75 mph winds,” Callaham said.  

Trees have been planted for all of Phase I, which is 110 acres. Another 113 acres are under construction. Callaham said the land has been purchased for Phase III. 

The association is expecting its first harvest of grapefruit and tangerines from Phase I in Fall of 2020.

Callaham expects this project to bring hundreds of jobs to the area, ranging from construction, to maintaining the trees, to jobs at the packing house in Dundee.