Founded in 1999 by fourth generation citrus grower Matt McLean, “Uncle Matt’s Organic” is an organic fruit and juice company in Clermont, Florida. The company works with roughly 20 growers who use a variety of agroecological techniques — including composting, cover crops and biological pest controls — to produce organic citrus, blueberries, blackberries, avocados and peaches on a combined 1,000 acres.
Matt uses worm tea, peanut meal and feather meal to ensure soil health, one of his main priorities. Also helpful are cover crops, which retain and cycle nutrients, help block the growth of weeds and aid in pest control. Matt’s production manager (and father) Benny McLean explains, “When you start growing cover crops, conditions change. Now you have all kinds of stuff that lives in the cover crop that helps you control pests and get insect populations down.”
Uncle Matt’s growers use a variety of cover crops, including sun hemp, hairy indigo, cowpeas and other legumes. The cover crops are planted between trees, usually in May to take advantage of summer rains. When weeds do make their way through the cover crop, they are removed by hand rather than sprayed.
Currently, a bacterial disease called Huanglongbing — also known as citrus greening disease or yellow dragon disease — poses a serious threat to the citrus industry. The disease interferes with plant nutrient and water uptake, resulting in bitter, misshapen and unmarketable fruit. In place of the pesticides (such as neonicotinoids and chlorpyrifos) employed by conventional growers to control the disease, farmers at Uncle Matt’s use Tamarixia radiata, a parasitic wasp whose larvae feed on the Asian citrus psyllid responsible for spreading the disease.
Uncle Matt’s is now the site of a University of Florida study to identify effective non-chemical solutions to citrus greening to help other organic growers.
Photo: Uncle Matt’s Organic