Evans Properties, Inc.
In the past, a farmer who owned a 100-acre grove could care for it himself. He knew the soil and every tree in it. Today, thanks to technology, a farmer can still know and care for each tree -- even in a grove covering thousands of acres.
Today, "Precision Agriculture" allows growers to have more information about their land and their trees than ever thought possible. With the aid of computers and high-tech equipment, the growers at Evans Properties, Inc., can have at hand the age, productivity and origin of every tree in their 30,000 acres of citrus groves.
"This technology gives you expanded ability to allow a good manager to operate on a much greater amount of acreage," said Ron Edwards, president and chief executive officer of Evans Properties. "It allows you to see what changes over the years, keep all of the historical data for soil tests, foliar tests, and fertilizer programs."
Founded by J. Emmett Evans in 1951, Evans Properties, Inc., has groves in eight counties across Florida. Evans has distinguished itself as an environmentally conscious operation in many areas including innovation, water conservation, and wildlife protection. Technology has allowed Evans to see its operation in a new and exciting way.
One of the most important decisions to be made when planting young citrus trees is selecting the rootstock. When a new grove is laid out, the soil is tested. Because the soil types in the South Florida flatwoods may change every 50 to 100 feet, a machine that measures water-holding capacity is used to identify the different soils. A variety of citrus rootstocks can then be matched to the best soil type for optimum health and productivity. In addition to charting the location of the various soils, the data collected can help the manager determine nutrient amounts and irrigation plans.
To get the most out of its citrus operation, trucks equipped with lasers and a global positioning system map the image and location of every tree. That information -- including age, nursery of origin, rootstock, productivity, and nutrient applications -- is stored in a computer database, giving the grove manager the tree’s extensive history. Remote electronic weather stations relay information to other locations, alerting the manager of favorable conditions for application of nutrients and pesticides.
The amount of pesticides being used is greatly reduced due to ultra-low-volume applicators. In addition, Evans uses "tree see technology." An ultrasonic or laser eye mounted to a tractor enables a sprayer to deliver a precise amount of pesticide to each tree, or turn off an applicator when no tree is detected. This eliminates unnecessary and costly use of pesticides.
"We found that in the average grove that saves maybe 25 percent of the chemical," Edwards said. "That’s good business as well as good stewardship of the land. In most cases, I think that good stewardship and good business go hand in hand. There are not too many cases where it really conflicts. I don’t think it’s a tradeoff that you have to make."
But for all the high-tech equipment used, Evans still relies on the hands-on approach when it comes to minimizing pesticide use and staying aware of the general health of the trees. Scouts will check leaves in the field for presence of pests and determine if and when pesticides need to be used. The scout will also collect a few young leaves and send them to a certified lab for leaf tissue analysis. The result of this test helps the manager decide when to apply fertilizer.
Reservoirs have been built to conserve water for irrigation and freeze protection as well as to control the amount of discharge beyond the property. Using reservoirs to collect rainwater also reduces pumping from freshwater wells. The reservoirs use natural filtration to improve the quality of discharged water. The reservoirs are also stocked with fish to further clean the water. Sampled regularly by an authorized lab, water leaving the property is often cleaner than when it came in. In a move to further reduce water consumption, Evans has converted to microjets and drip irrigation throughout its operation.
"Most all of our pump stations are metered so that you know how much you’ve put out," Edwards said. "We run the water in small bursts where there are only a couple of hours of water run at a time, where you don’t run the water past the root zone. We use tensiometers and surface wells to indicate what the water levels are in the groves so that the irrigation is timed to just what the plant needs. You don’t over water, you don’t underwater. You’re conserving it in every way."
Attention to environmental guidelines is apparent in Evans’ maintenance area. Safety standards are rigorously followed in the machine shop. Containment areas enclosing the fuel tanks protect ground water. Residue removed from field equipment at special wash stations drains into holding tanks for safe disposal.
The Evans family doesn’t just demonstrate good stewardship in the way they run their citrus operation. Showing a deep respect for the land, they have set aside nearly 300 acres of wildlife habitat at Bluefield Grove. This voluntary wildlife sanctuary was established expressly for the preservation of indigenous species.
"Stewardship is a long-term process and objective of the whole system of how you manage the groves with both inputs, people, water, best management practices in general," Edwards said. "So it’s good business to be a good steward of the land. You have to meld all these different pieces together of technology, management, and just good sense and old practical knowledge that’s always worked together to be competitive and stay in business. And I think going the extra mile, we try to always be practical and not just do something for show. And in the long-term I think it pays off."