Citrus fruits are the highest-value fruit crops in the world, with the United States citrus industry alone being worth $3.44 billion in 2017 according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture. All over the world citrus producers yielded 124.25 million metric tons of citrus fruits in 2016, with the U.S. contributing around 7.8 million metric tons based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Today, the most important citrus varieties in the U.S. are oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and tangerines. Although these citrus fruits are typically produced for direct consumption and are thus eaten fresh, they can also be processed into a whole host of different products, including juice drinks, marmalades, jams, essential oils, perfumes, and soft drink additives, which means these fruit crops also represent a motley collection of industries.

However, in the U.S., declining citrus crop yields is a growing problem, with current nationwide citrus production figures already 3.7 million metric tons behind 2008’s 11.5 million metric tons. One big factor that is contributing to the industry’s decline is increasing hurricane activity. For instance, hurricane Irma destroyed as much as 60 percent of Florida’s orange crops when it hit the southeastern state in September 2017. Moreover, citrus diseases are also wreaking havoc on America’s citrus groves. For example, a bacterial infection knows as citrus greening disease or huanglongbing (yellow dragon disease in Chinese), is presently devastating U.S citrus crops. The worst part about the situation is that there is currently no known cure that exists for the botanical malady.

With the high value of citrus crops and the current challenges that the industry is facing, it becomes all the more important for citrus farmers and grove operators to take all the necessary measures to maximize their citrus production. Here’s a summary of some of the simplest but most important tips.

Ensure That the Citrus Varieties You Choose to Farm Are Suitable to the Climate

According to the Citrus Research and Education Center of the University of Florida, climate is the most important factor that affects differences in fruit quality among the regions that produce citrus fruits. For instance, while navel oranges thrive in Mediterranean climate conditions with cool and wet winter seasons as well as hot and dry summer seasons, grapefruit cultivars grow optimally in warm-climate areas where winters don’t get as cold.

Valencia oranges, on the other hand, are hardier than either of the two, making them able to grow in a wide variety of climates. As such, it is of utmost importance to ensure that the citrus fruit crops you choose can grow well in the area where you will be farming them.

Properly Irrigate Your Groves to Allow Transpiration and Plant Growth to Occur

Naturally, citrus fruit trees also need a proper amount of water to be able to grow properly. Depending on where the citrus grove is located and what the climate conditions are, a good amount of the citrus trees’ irrigation needs can be met by rainfall. In most places where citrus crops are grown, however, supplemental water is required. Inland, this tends to be less of a concern, but in coastal areas where whether patterns tend to be more unpredictable, water supplementation is typically the norm.

According to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Division of the University of California, there is one-to-one relationship between plant growth and transpiration. Because plants need to lose water in order to grow, they also need to be properly irrigated so that they don’t become water-stressed. Agricultural technological services like aerial spectral imagery can help you determine whether or not your citrus trees are water-stressed so that you can apply the necessary changes in your irrigation practices.

Introduce Nutrients Properly

Another production practice that will have a significant impact on the quality of your citrus fruits is fertilization, and the most important nutrients that may influence your crops’ quality are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and Calcium.

Identifying the amount of nutrients needed by your trees according to their variety and cultivar, as well as the soil’s quality, is important because the plants will respond differently according to the amount of nutrients that are introduced. For example, too much nitrogen can bring about increased plant vigor, but instead of flowering, the trees might just produce and grow more leaves. Too little nitrogen, on the other hand, can induce excessive flowering, but the resulting fruits might be of very low quality.

Proper nutrient introduction is also important because nutrients are regularly removed from the soil due to natural processes.  As a matter of fact, nitrogen and potassium are the most quickly eliminated nutrients from citrus orchards, which makes it all the more important to include them in your routine fertilization activities.

Maximize Exposure to Sunlight

Citrus trees can typically tolerate shaded environments, but if you want your trees to yield more and better fruits, it is important for the trees to be grown fully under the sun.

If your trees are in an open space, exposure to sunlight, in general, shouldn’t be a problem. However what you also want to ensure is that the sunlight can penetrate through the tree canopy. As such, make sure to prune your trees properly. In particular, hedging and topping opens up the canopy, removes dead wood and leaves, and prevents overcrowding, making conditions optimal for your citrus trees to flower.

Keeping these simple tips in mind will allow you and your people to help your citrus trees produce more fruits. As a farmer and grove operator, what other points can you provide others?