The increasing trend in the world population and decreasing trend in the available agricultural land and water mandate a more efficient use of water and orchard land. Using new orchard designs with more efficient irrigation systems and rootstocks can result in lower water consumption (Fallahi et al., 2007a; Neilsen et al., 2006, 2008) while producing higher quality fruit (Autio et al., 1996; Behboudian and Mills, 1997; Behboudian et al., 2005; Fallahi et al., 2007a, 2007b; Naor et al., 2008; Neilsen et al., 2010). Rootstock can influence ripening, color, and shape of the scion fruit. Autio et al. (1996) in the 1984 NC-140 cooperative planting reported that apple fruit ripening was correlated with tree vigor and the most dwarfing rootstocks resulted in the earliest ripening. Rootstock can also influence scion leaf and fruit mineral concentrations and, thus, indirectly affect fruit quality and yield (Fallahi et al., 2001a, 2001b).
Ebel et al. (1993) in a comprehensive study in Washington State applied regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) to ‘Delicious’ apple trees early in the growing season to determine if fruit quality and storage life would be altered compared with well-watered trees. Internal ethylene concentration increased logarithmically earlier in RDI apples. At harvest, RDI fruit were smaller and had a higher SSC and lower titratable acidity (TA). Starch degradation was delayed in RDI fruit, and their color was unaffected. Firmness was unaffected when the effect of size on firmness was removed. The SSC of RDI apples remained higher during storage, but starch content, TA, firmness, and color were similar.
Leib et al. (2006) indicated that fruit size and yield of ‘Fuji’ apple in deficit irrigation (DI) were similar to those of partial root zone drying irrigation and conventional irrigation (CI) in the semiarid climate of Washington State. Naor et al. (2008) reported that yield and fruit size decreased as the rate of irrigation was reduced in ‘Golden Delicious’ apple in Israel. Previous reports have indicated that a reduction in water application may result in a reduction in apple firmness, relating this observation to the advanced maturity in fruit with water stress (Drake et al., 1981; Mills et al., 1994). However, other studies have shown that apples from non-irrigated plots were firmer than those from irrigated plots because fruit from non-treated plots had smaller size (Assaf et al., 1975).
Irrigation with a drip system uses lower water volume than sprinkler irrigation (Fallahi et al., 2007a; Proebsting, 1994). However, irrigation through microjet sprinkler systems can improve the establishment and maintenance of orchard floor vegetation. Microjet sprinklers also create a cooler environment in the orchards under the fruit-growing conditions of Washington and Idaho (E. Fallahi, personal observation).
Although there has been some progress in the understanding of microirrigation systems (Chun et al., 2001; Fallahi et al., 2007a; Neilsen et al., 1994, 2010; Yao et al., 2001; Zydlik and Pacholak, 2001), information on tree growth, yield, and fruit quality for new apple cultivars and rootstocks under various regimes of drip or microjet sprinkler irrigation systems in the Pacific Northwestern United States is lacking. Thus, the objective of this long-term experiment was to study the effect of four rootstocks and two irrigation treatments consisting of microjet sprinkler and drip systems using ETc-based water scheduling on water use, tree growth, yield, and harvest-time fruit quality attributes in ‘Pacific Gala’ apple at different ages of tree (different years of tree canopy maturity) during 2004–07.
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