Blueberry is a rapidly expanding component of the small fruit sector in the Pacific Northwest of North America. Between 1992 and 2003, acreage planted to highbush blueberry in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia increased 124%, 78%, and 122%, respectively (Strik and Yarborough, 2005) and the trend continues today. Almost all blueberry growers irrigate through the summer in an effort to match water availability to plant water demand. Of the various types of irrigation systems available, drip is becoming the most widely used in blueberry. Drip irrigation guidelines are available for horticultural crops grown in British Columbia (Van der Gulik, 1999) but no information on expected yield or fruit quality with respect to irrigation is available for blueberry. Some recent information is available that compares blueberry irrigation methods and rates on a silt clay-loam soil in Oregon (Bryla, 2008; Bryla et al., 2009, 2011), but there is nothing specific to the cultivars, climatic conditions, and soil types of British Columbia. Despite a number of drip irrigation configurations used in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., one or two lines, suspended or ground level), no literature is available comparing them.
The effects of cultural practices, including irrigation and water management, on blueberry fruit quality attributes such as berry size, firmness, and shelf life remain largely undefined. Blueberries contain high levels of anthocyanins and other flavonoids, which show anticarcinogenic properties and are used to treat such ailments as urinary tract infections, blood vessel disorders, and ophthalmological conditions (Kalt and Dufour, 1997). Information on the effects of irrigation on antioxidants and anthocyanins in blueberries is lacking.
The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of different drip irrigation configurations and rates on blueberry production. Treatments were imposed beginning the first year after planting, and the effects on yield and fruit quality were followed as the plants matured.
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