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Fan-Hsuan Yang, David R. Bryla, and Bernadine C. Strik

Over-canopy sprinkler systems are used to cool northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) fields and maintain fruit quality in the northwestern United States, but more information is needed to determine exactly when cooling is needed. The objective of this study was to identify the critical temperatures for heat damage to berries and for effective evaporative cooling. An initial study conducted in western Oregon in a mature planting of late-season ‘Elliott’ blueberry revealed that heat damage was typically observed within 1 to 3 days after an extreme heat event. Fruit damage, including softening, shriveling, and necrosis, occurred during both green and blue stages of development and was found primarily on sun-exposed berries, which on hot, sunny days (>35 °C) were 7 to 11 °C warmer than the ambient air temperature. A subsequent study was conducted to determine whether the critical temperature for heat damage differed between the green and blue fruit stages. In this case, ‘Aurora’ was compared with ‘Elliott’ blueberry. Berries were heated using a chamber-free convective unit and were exposed for up to 4 hours to berry temperatures of 42, 44, 46, and 48 °C. When the berries were green, significant damage was visible at each temperature within 1.5 to 2 hours in ‘Aurora’ and 3 to 3.5 hours in ‘Elliott’. Damage of green berries increased with time and temperature, and after 4 hours, ranged from 17% to 59% of the total berry number in the cluster in ‘Aurora’ and 10% to 24% in ‘Elliott’. Fruit damage at the blue stage was less than at the green stage and was only significant at 46 and 48 °C (within 3.5 to 2 hours, respectively) in ‘Aurora’ and at 48 °C (within 2 hours) in ‘Elliott’. Wax and cutin layers thickened on the berries as they progressed from green to blue, which perhaps increased their tolerance to heat at later stages of development. Based on these results, northern highbush blueberry fields should be cooled at air temperatures >32 °C during the green stages of fruit development and >35 °C during ripening.

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Fan-Hsuan Yang, David R. Bryla, and R. Troy Peters

Heat-related fruit damage is a prevalent issue in northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) in various growing regions, including the northwestern United States. To help address the issue, we developed a simple climatological model to predict blueberry fruit temperatures based on local weather data and to simulate the effects of using over-canopy sprinklers for cooling the fruit. Predictions of fruit temperature on sunny days correlated strongly with the actual values (R 2 = 0.91) and had a root mean-square error of ≈2 °C. Among the parameters tested, ambient air temperature and light intensity had the greatest impact on fruit temperature, whereas wind speed and fruit size had less impact, and relative humidity had no impact. Cooling efficiency was estimated successfully under different sprinkler cooling intervals by incorporating a water application factor that was calculated based on the amount of water applied and the time required for water to evaporate from the fruit surface between the intervals. The results indicate that water temperature and nozzle flow rate affected the extent to which cooling with sprinklers reduced fruit temperature. However, prolonging the runtime of the sprinklers did not guarantee lower temperatures during cooling, because cooling efficiency declined as the temperature of the fruit approached the temperature of the irrigation water. Users could incorporate the model into weather forecast programs to predict the incidence of heat damage and could use it to make cooling decisions in commercial blueberry fields.

Open access

Fan-Hsuan Yang, Lisa W. DeVetter, Bernadine C. Strik, and David R. Bryla

Accumulation of calcium (Ca) in fruit is largely caused by transpiration and varies depending on the concentration of Ca in the xylem fluid. The objective of the present study was to evaluate the relationship between fruit stomatal functioning and Ca accumulation during different stages of development in northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.). Stomata were scarce on the berries and were concentrated primarily on the distal end near the calyx. The density of the stomata was greatest at petal fall, averaging 5 to 108 stomata/mm2 from the proximal end (pedicel end) to the distal end of the berries. Stomata were wide-open at the early green stage of berry development and had a slight deposit of wax along the guard cells. As the berries expanded during the initial period of rapid growth (stage I), most of the stomata remained near the distal segment of the berries; by the late green stage, almost none was found in the middle and proximal segments. The majority of these stomata were completely covered with wax when the berries began to change color and ripen (stage II and stage III). Stomatal conductance (g S) of the berries averaged 45 mmol·m−2·s−1 at petal fall and rapidly declined as the fruit developed. By the fruit coloring stage, conductance was low and remained less than 15 mmol·m−2·s−1 throughout the ripening period. In four cultivars, including Duke, Bluecrop, Aurora, and Elliott, Ca uptake in the berries increased rapidly during the early green stage; however, it slowed considerably between the late green and fruit coloring stages and stopped completely during fruit ripening. The results of this study strongly suggested that practices used to increase the Ca content of blueberries, such as the application of foliar fertilizers, should be performed early in the season during the first few weeks after flowering.

Open access

Fan-Hsuan Yang, David R. Bryla, Scott T. Orr, Bernadine C. Strik, and Yanyun Zhao

Hot and sunny weather can cause a considerable amount of fruit damage in northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) and result in millions of dollars of crop loss each year. To combat this issue, many growers use over-canopy sprinkler or microsprinkler systems to cool the fruit, but questions remain on the amount of time and frequency these systems should be run and whether they have any effect on fruit quality. Two series of studies were conducted to evaluate the efficacy of using sprinklers or microsprinklers for reducing blueberry fruit temperature and improving fruit quality in western Oregon. With sprinklers, treatments were applied in 2014 and 2015 to ‘Elliott’ blueberry and included irrigation (night) and cooling (day) with sprinklers, sprinkler irrigation (at night only) with no cooling, and drip irrigation with no cooling. The sprinklers were run for cooling for 15 minutes every hour whenever air temperature was ≥32 or 35 °C. Berry temperature declined rapidly within the first 15 minutes of cooling and never exceeded ambient air temperature during the cooling cycles. While the percentage of fruit with heat damage was low even without cooling (<2%), cooling reduced damage to nearly 0% in 1 of 2 years and increased berry weight relative to no cooling in both years when it was run at ≥32 °C. Cooling also reduced the concentration of soluble solids (sugars) in the berries in 2014 but had no effect on yield, fruit firmness, titratable acidity, harvest date, or the total content of phenolics or anthocyanins in the berries in either year. With microsprinklers, cooling was tested at a commercial farm and at an experimental site. At the farm, 1.3-ha blocks of ‘Aurora’ blueberry were irrigated by drip and either had no cooling or were cooled using microsprinklers run continuously or pulsed in 1-hour or 20-minute cycles during three extreme heat events (≥35 °C) in 2015. Continuous cooling was the most effective treatment for reducing berry temperature, but it resulted in wetter conditions, which might impede fruit harvest afterward and increase the presence of slugs, insect pests, and fungal diseases. Pulsed cooling, especially with short cycles, effectively maintained fruit temperatures near that of ambient air and reduced water use by 50%. At the experimental site, cooling with microsprinklers, which in this case were pulsed in 20-min cycles when air temperature was ≥ 32 °C, reduced heat damage in ‘Aurora’ and ‘Elliott’ in 2016. Cooling at this site also increased berry weight by an average of 10% in both cultivars and increased fruit firmness by 32% during the first of three harvests in ‘Aurora’; however, it reduced the concentration of soluble solids in the berries in both cultivars. In general, cooling with microsprinklers used considerably less water than cooling with sprinklers, but it appeared to be equally effective at reducing berry temperature.