PhD Graduate Student
Ricardo Lesmes-Vesga, a native of the Colombian Andes Mountains region, is pursuing a PhD in Horticultural Sciences with an emphasis on protected agriculture and citrus advanced production systems.
He completed a BSc in Agronomy Engineering at the National University of Colombia, where his senior project involved different concentrations of salt in irrigation water given to lettuce plants. His next step was to earn a Specialist in Company Management degree from the Free University of Colombia, where he designed and implemented a company improvement plan to introduce a competitive business strategy. His strategy involved protected agriculture. He then earned a MSc degree in Protected Crop Plant Production at the University of Almería in Spain.
Lesmes-Vesga worked evaluating alternative substrates for soilless crop production in Almería. He found Almería’s greenhouses to be unique to that region only, built from vine arbor structures, or plastic panels supported by a network of metal wires, sandwiched plastic with nets of wires. Most of the fruit and vegetables exported to Europe during the winter are produced in Almería. The region’s export markets now include Russia and China. A new commodity for the plastic greenhouse farmers are perennial fruits, like Japanese medlar.
Ricardo's work to earn a Master of Science degree in Protected Crop Plant Production with the University of Almería involved drainage quality and growth parameters for strawberry plants. Upon completion, he said he wanted to learn how to protect citrus produced in the world’s premier grapefruit production region and. He sought a doctorate program in Florida to study under an innovative scientist with expertise in citrus and found Rhuanito “Johnny” Ferrarezi, who earned his doctorate at a university in Brazil’s São Paulo State, one of the world’s leading fresh orange production regions.
Ferrarezi is directing Lesmes-Vesga’s research. Their work involves a structure unique to Florida’s specific needs for citrus tree production: 14-feet high screenhouses fashioned with white mesh material mounted onto wooden poles and steel cable frames. The mesh excludes the Asian citrus psyllid, an invasive insect that carries Florida’s famous citrus industry’s most formidable enemy of all time—a bacterium causing huanglongbing, alias citrus greening.
Lesmes-Vesga said protected agriculture systems must match the needs of specific production regions and niche markets. Florida’s protective screenhouses are different from any he saw in Colombia and Spain. Specific concerns for the screenhouses are canopy management and plant densities for the trees grown under the mesh structure. The structures are citrus under protective screens, or CUPS. His research at IRREC focuses on horticultural improvements. The scientists are seeking to manage CUPS irrigation systems more efficiently, based on soil moisture sensors. The advanced production system is believed to be more profitable for Florida’s citrus growers, protect the citrus crops from the invasive Asian citrus psyllid, and produce more yield in a small space. Lesmes-Vesga said fewer insecticides are needed because a physical barrier is present against the vector, the Asian citrus psyllid.