The Asian Citrus Psyllid and the HLB disease it carries continues its westward march leaving Florida and Georgia and the rest of the south with $3 billion in losses. California’s $1 billion citrus industry is now under threat but there is hope for CA nurseries using new greenhouses by Airstream Innovations.
When the CDFA mandated only certified Psyllid/HLB-free trees may be sold or planted in California, this left citrus nurserymen needing someplace to raise future generations of citrus trees. Through an acquaintance they met David Chelf of Airstream Innovations who had invented this technology while growing under his own organic label. Chelf put his label on hold and focused on perfecting his technology to help his fellow growers deliver certified pest-free trees. As of 2013, Airstream Innovations holds patents in 13 countries and today, over one million square feet of California’s wholesale citrus nurseries are protected using Airstream Greenhouses.
If you’re not already familiar with the concept, Chelf’s design captures the prevailing winds using 360 degree air intake towers plus additional variable-speed fans to continually inflate a light-weight fabric covering a half acre or more. To prevent pests, a high-density netting surrounds the base of the towers stopping pests from entering. This patented design is the ultimate growing environment, a photosynthesis machine, from a quarter acre up to 1.5+ acres or more. The standardized half-acre facility costs about $7.00 per square foot and is typically completed in two-weeks upon start date.
California citrus nurserymen are not only receiving USDA certification, but are reporting higher production rates including reduced water and pesticide use; seedling to budding 30 days sooner than expected; 30% more root and leaf growth; extended growing seasons, and improved worker satisfaction.
One of Airstream’s largest clients maintains over 285,000 square feet producing citrus trees for the wholesale growers market. Over the last 20 years, they were averaging 100,000 trees per year. With Airstream greenhouses, they are producing 400,000 trees on the same property using half the labor expected with a conventional greenhouse operation.
Rob Brokaw of Brokaw Nursery of wholesale Avocado fame, claimed his stake in the wholesale citrus nursery industry with three one-acre+ units protecting 150,000 square feet of several citrus varieties. Pest-free nursery trees are also thriving at Willits & Newcomb and Mulholland Citrus in Riverside County and to the south, Young’s Nursery in Palm Desert, is currently installing their sixth of 20 units.
Chelf has proven his industrial-scale growing technology can not only produce certified reliable safe product, but has also demonstrated superior productivity increases at a lower cost over any other conventional alternative.