“At planting, we used a slow-release fertilizer. Then, the trees are fed once a month with fertigation. There’s a constant supply of water — we’re babying these trees.”

And it seems to pay off.

“We saw fruit in the second year,”Murphy says. “By the third year, you should be cash-flowing these trees.”

Young trees also receive an enhanced nutrient program. “The idea is to get a young tree to produce before greening gets it,” he says.

“I think we could do a big grove this way. The biggest obstacle is water, because there are more trees in the ground. We have to have drip tape, but we also have to have microjet — a dual system. We already have that on 40 acres in Hendry County.”

Murphy likes how the young trees responded to his team’s intensive management.

“This is the system of the future,” he says. “If I were to plant a grove now, we’d do this. I can see us rejuvenating 20-acre blocks with high-density planting.”

This grove design could also work well with mechanical harvesting. He also harvests some fruit with the current Oxbo harvester. The concept, which reduces reliance on hand labor, intrigues him.

“This type of grove will be perfect for the mechanical harvesting of the future. Researchers and engineers are now developing a machine to harvest these kinds of plantings,” he says.

Since smaller machines could be required for jobs like spraying, additional equipment redesigns may be necessary — but it’s not that big a deal, Murphy says, for the grove of the future.

The prototypegrove is just a small part of what Murphy’s team does to work with greening disease.

As of last spring, 16 percent of the trees on the groves he manages had been removed due to greening infestation since the disease appeared in 2006.

“As the latency period passed, after two and a half or three years, all of a sudden we saw huge spikes, and it scared the dickens out of us by 2009,” he says.

Since then, about 3.5 percent to 4 percent of their trees are removed each year because of greening disease.