The interactions between irrigation and crop level with respect to fruit size distribution and soil and stem water potentials were investigated in a nectarine (Prunus persica (L.) Batsch. `Fairlane') orchard located in a semiarid zone. Irrigation treatments during stage III of fruit growth ranged from 0.62 to 1.29 of potential evapotranspiration (ETp). Fruit were hand thinned to a wide range of fruit levels (200 to 1200 fruit/tree in the 555-tree/ha orchard). Total yield did not increase with increasing irrigation rate above 0.92 ETp in 1996 and maximum yield was found at 1.06 ETp in 1997. Fruit size distribution was shifted towards larger fruit with increasing irrigation level and with decreasing crop level. The two highest irrigation treatments had similar midday stem water potentials. Our findings indicate that highest yields and highest water use efficiency (yield/water consumption) are not always related to minimum water stress. Total yield and large fruit yield were highly and better correlated with midday stem water potential than with soil water potential. This confirms other reports that midday stem water potential is an accurate indicator of tree water stress and may have utility in irrigation scheduling.
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