The decrease in irrigation water availability mandates a more efficient use of water in agriculture. Merging new orchard designs with more efficient irrigation systems can result in lower water consumption (Fallahi et al., 2007a, 2007b) while producing higher quality fruit (Behboudian and Mills, 1997; Behboudian et al., 2005; Fallahi et al., 2007a, 2007b; Naor, 2006). The method of irrigation and injection of nutrients, particularly nitrogen (N) through water, affects water consumption and fruit quality in apples which are critical issues in many parts of the world, including the Pacific northwestern region of the North America (Fallahi et al., 2007a; Neilsen et al., 1994, 2009).
Leib et al. (2006) indicated that fruit size and yield of ‘Fuji’ apple in 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 indicate that a reduction in water application may result in 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 researchers have shown that apples from nonirrigated plots were firmer than those from irrigated plots (Assaf et al., 1975; Guelfat-Reich and Ben-Arie, 1979; Guelfat-Reich et al., 1974), perhaps because fruit from nontreated plots had smaller size (Assaf et al., 1975).
Irrigation with a drip system uses less water than sprinkler irrigation (Fallahi et al., 2007b; 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 fruit-growing conditions of Washington and Idaho (E. Fallahi, personal observation). Research has been conducted with orchard fertigation through drip systems in British Columbia (Neilsen et al., 2006; Yao et al., 2001) and Europe (Zydlik and Pacholak, 2001). Although there has been some progress in understanding micro-irrigation systems and N application (Chun et al., 2001; Fallahi et al., 2001a, 2001b; Neilsen and Neilsen, 2006; Neilsen et al., 2004, 2008), information on yield and fruit quality in new apple cultivars under various regimes of drip or microjet sprinkler irrigation systems in the Pacific Northwest is lacking. Thus, the objective of this long-term experiment was to study the effect of five irrigation treatments consisting of two microjet sprinkler and three drip systems, using an ETc-based water scheduling, and two levels of N (40 g N/tree and 80 g N/tree) on water use, yield, and harvest-time fruit quality attributes in fully mature ‘Autumn Rose Fuji’ trees.
We thank the Idaho Apple Commission, International Fruit Tree Association, Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, and the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station for their financial support of this project. We are also thankful to the Columbia Basin and C & O Nurseries in Washington State for providing the experimental trees and to Richard L. Bronson, Pipeco, Fruitland, Idaho for his invaluable contribution and assistance in designing the irrigation layout and providing the irrigation materials for this project.
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