Managing Fruit Soluble Solids with Late-season Deficit Irrigation in Drip-irrigated Processing Tomato Production

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  • 1 Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis, CA 95616

Fruit soluble solids concentration (SSC) is an important quality factor for tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) grown for processing. The use of drip irrigation often results in undesirably low SSC. The effects of late-season irrigation management on fruit yield and SSC was investigated in a series of drip-irrigated field trials in California from 2000–04. The effects of irrigation cutoff or deficit irrigation implemented 40 to 50 days preharvest (the period corresponding to the initiation of fruit ripening) were compared to a standard grower practice of irrigation cutoff 20 days preharvest. Irrigation cutoff 40 to 50 days preharvest increased SSC but resulted in substantial yield loss, with significantly reduced brix yield (Mg fruit solids ha-1). By contrast, deficit irrigation significantly increased SSC compared to the standard practice, with no significant loss of brix yield. In three commercial fields the effect of deficit irrigation on fruit SSC was investigated. Fruits were sampled on three dates: 1) 4 to 5 weeks preharvest, early-ripening, pink-stage fruit only, 2) about 1 week preharvest, both late-ripening, pink-stage fruit and early-ripening fruit now fully ripe, and 3) commercial harvest, composite of early- and late-maturing fruit. SSC increased in response to soil moisture stress induced by deficit irrigation, with late-maturing fruit as much as 1.6 °brix higher than fruit maturing before significant soil moisture stress. However, once a fruit reached the pink stage of maturity, its SSC was not affected by subsequent soil moisture stress. An additional five commercial field trials were conducted to compare growers' irrigation practices with greater degrees of deficit irrigation. In each field the grower's deficit irrigation regime was compared to a reduced treatment receiving 25% to 50% less water over the final 4 to 7 weeks before harvest. Across fields, applying 20% to 60% of reference evapotranspiration (ETo) over the fruit ripening period resulted in acceptable SSC without significant brix yield reduction. We conclude that deficit irrigation initiated during early fruit ripening provides a flexible tool for SSC management. Brix monitoring of earliest ripening fruit can help classify fields as to the severity of irrigation deficit required to reach desirable SSC at harvest.

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