Growers battle citrus greening with giant tent

- You can't see it from the road, but tucked away in a remote area of Lake Wales in Polk County is a vast operation set up to protect on the state's most vital commodities: The citrus industry.

"It was a seed that was planted by the University of Florida.  They had a conceptual project in place that our growers and ourselves took a look at and we've just taken it to a commercial level," said Steven Callaham of the Dundee Citrus Growers Association.

The large tents appear sheer, but they are built to withstand any weather scenario.  They are also highly secured.  You must scan a pass to get inside. Once the doors open, fans start blowing to keep out an enemy.

"If there happens to be any insects that are hanging out on the outside of the structure, you open the doors and the fan blows the wind outside so that they don't come in with you," Callaham explained.

Underneath these tents are budding citrus trees as far as the eye can see.

"We planted 20 acres under protective screening, which is called 'CUPS' -- Citrus Under Protective Screening," said Ed Pines, the owner of EIP Citrus Management.

Pines saw this as a way of turning the industry in a new direction.

"We can't survive or sustain our current growing practices or growing citrus outside with HLB, which is a greening disease," said Pines.

There is even a weather station inside that tracks the temperature, humidity, wind speed and the moisture of the ground.

Besides protecting the crop, they are hoping to develop a sustainable fruit with consumer appeal.  They are growing mandarin oranges.

"The reason we developed this concept was to bring to the consumer good-tasting Florida fruit using less chemicals, less water, less pesticides," continued Pines.

The crop was planted in 2016. It still has about a year to flourish. Major retail chains are taking notice.

"They are very excited. There's a lot of challenges that the Florida Citrus Industry is experiencing right now," Callaham offered.

"Now that people have seen the structure and they've seen what we've built here, it brings excitement. It brings freshness. It brings job security, which is important for us," Pines added.

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