Evaporative cooling of apple and pear orchards
A growing number of fruit producers in warm areas are adopting the use of overtree evaporative cooling (EC) as a technique to reduce sunburn and enhance colour development of red or blushed fruit. Because fruit do not have efficient mechanisms of utilising and/or dissipating solar radiation, fruit surface temperature may rise 10 – 15oC higher than the ambient air temperature, making them very susceptible to sunburn. Sunburn negatively affects the appearance of the fruit, and they cannot be sold for fresh market consumption, which receives the highest prices. Evaporative cooling uses a sprinkler system to cool the trees from above. Energy needed to evaporate the water is extracted from the fruit skin, cooling the fruit down. The air around the trees is cooled, and a more favorable microclimate is created in the orchard. Producers have also found that the use of EC just prior to sundown and sometimes around sunrise has improved colour development on red apples (especially early varieties) before harvest. In this study, two apple (‘Cripps’ Pink’ and ‘Royal Gala’) and two pear (‘Rosemarie’ and ‘Forelle’) cultivars under EC were compared with control fruit in terms of maturity, colour, sunburn and concentrations of polyphenolics in the skin. Two EC treatments were given; early application starting from the second week in December, and late application starting two to four weeks before harvest. Photosynthetic responses were measured, as well as fruit and leaf temperatures. Underlying physiological responses of trees and fruit to EC were investigated, particularly the phenomenon of acclimation and the potential for colour development and heat stress. Fruit surface temperature of fruit under EC was found to be significantly lower than control fruit. In both apple cultivars a significant increase in fruit skin anthocyanin concentration and a decrease in phenolic content was found as the season progressed. In both pear cultivars there was a significant decrease in both anthocyanin and phenolic. No significant differences were found in anthocyanin content between treatments in either the apple or pear cultivars. In both apple cultivars a higher phenolic content was found in the peel of the EC treatments. A decrease of up to four percent in leaf and fruit surface temperature was found under EC. No significant difference in trunk circumference was found in any of the cultivars. The late EC treatment in ‘Cripps’ Pink’ had a significantly faster rate of budbreak than the control and early EC treatments. Significantly higher transpiration was observed in leaves under EC. ‘Royal Gala’ fruit under EC had less sunburn than control fruit. Unfortunately the system broke down on a hot day, causing more sunburn on ‘Cripps’ Pink’ fruit under EC. Heat tolerance of apple fruit grown under EC was evaluated in ‘Cripps’ Pink’ and ‘Royal Gala’ by determining the maximum quantum yield of chlorophyll fluorescence (Fv/Fm). Measurements were also made 12 hours after the heat treatments to determine recovery. ‘Cripps’ Pink’ fruit from both EC treatments, but particularly the early EC treatment, were less resistant to heat stress than control (non-EC) fruit at the “threshold” air temperature of 45°C. Apples were able to recover from heat treatments in the range of 32-38oC fruit surface temperature, and generally also recovered fully after 43-45°C fruit surface temperature when exposure did not exceed four hours. This knowledge could be helpful in the management of sunburn, for example when determining the threshold temperature for the activation of evaporative cooling treatments. Knowledge about the various effects evaporative cooling and the subsequent lowering of ambient temperatures has on fruit trees and fruit could contribute greatly to producers’ ability to grow high quality fruit. EC can be used successfully for controlling sunburn and increasing fruit colour, but the system needs to be controlled very carefully and care should be taken that it does not fail on a hot day, as it did during this study.