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  • Author or Editor: James E. Larson x
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Chemical thinning, the most common and cost-effective thinning method, is conducted during early apple fruit development over a 3- to 4-week period using multiple applications of plant growth regulators. It is critical to provide apple growers with tools to assess the efficacy of chemical thinners quickly and accurately because visible responses are not apparent for up to 2 weeks after application. The objective of this study was to build a model to predict apple fruitlet abscission following a chemical thinner application with in situ reflectance data obtained with a portable visible and near infrared (Vis/NIR) spectrophotometer. Developed models were compared with the currently available fruitlet growth model (FGM). ‘Honeycrisp’ fruitlet diameter and reflectance were measured on dates around a chemical thinner application across a 2-year period. After June drop, measured fruitlets were determined to have either persisted or abscised. Random forest, partial least squares regression, and XGBoost classification models were used to predict fruitlet abscission from reflectance data. Each classification model was developed with 2021, 2022, and combined 2021 + 2022 data. For each dataset, 5-fold cross validation was used to assess three model performance metrics: 1) overall accuracy, 2) recall, and 3) specificity. Datasets tested were either unbalanced, majority class down-sampled, or minority class up-sampled with synthetic minority oversampling technique. In both years, the FGM reliably estimated chemical thinner efficacy 9 days after application. Before this time point, the FGM had low prediction accuracy of the minority class in both years—persisting fruitlets in 2021 and abscising fruitlets in 2022. For reflectance spectroscopy, the developed random forest models that were balanced with synthetic minority over-sampling technique were found to be the best combination in predicting chemical thinner efficacy. The combined 2021 + 2022 dataset overall model accuracy ranged from 84% the day before to 93% at 9 days after thinner application. These results show that Vis/NIR is a promising tool to predict chemical thinner efficacy. This technology had high prediction accuracies over a range of fruitlet abscission potential and two growing seasons. Further development and testing of the model over cultivars, chemical thinner timings, and growing regions would facilitate commercialization of the technology.

Open Access

Apple (Malus ×domestica) growers can incur significant economic losses when fruit drop before they can be harvested [preharvest fruit drop (PFD)]. In some years and cultivars, more than 30% of potential yield can be lost. Growers frequently apply plant bioregulators to reduce PFD, either via delay in maturity [aminoethoxyvinylglycine (AVG), 1-methylcycolpropene] or via inhibition in production of cell hydrolysis enzymes in the fruit pedicel [naphthalene acetic acid (NAA)]. Finding a physiological indicator of PFD would allow growers to assess the susceptibility of fruit to PFD. Due to its lignification, xylem is believed to be the last tissue to break down in the fruit pedicel, leading to PFD. To determine whether loss in xylem functionality can be used as an indicator of PFD potential, studies were conducted in 2020 and 2021 with ‘Red Delicious’ treated with AVG (132 µL·L−1), NAA (10 µL·L−1), and an ethylene-producing compound [ethephon (150 µL·L−1 in 2020, 200 µL·L−1 in 2021)] to generate a range of PFD potentials. Xylem functionality was assessed in the fruit cortex. Internal ethylene content (IEC), fruit maturity indices, and PFD rates were quantified weekly throughout the harvest period. Expression of genes encoding for cell hydrolysis enzymes (MdEG1 and MdPG2) was quantified to relate xylem functionality to fruit abscission mechanisms. In 2020 and 2021, AVG reduced PFD compared with the untreated control by decreasing IEC. Although ethephon did not result in higher PFD than untreated fruit, NAA reduced PFD in 2020 but not 2021. For all treatments in both years, there was a linear decrease in xylem functionality throughout the measurement period. Cumulative PFD exponentially decreased as xylem functionality neared zero and the climacteric rise in ethylene began. Concurrent with the rise in IEC and PFD was an increase in the expression of MdEG1 and MdPG2 in the fruit pedicel of the control compared with AVG-treated fruit. AVG-treated fruit lost xylem functionality at a similar rate to the untreated control but had lower expression of MdEG1 and MdPG2. These results indicate that xylem functionality is not a sole direct indicator of PFD. The concurrent increase in PFD and expression of MdEG1/MdPG2 supports previous research indicating that these two genes may serve as potential markers for PFD.

Open Access

Apple (Malus ×domestica L. Borkh.) growers need tools to predict the efficacy of chemical thinners that are applied to induce fruitlet abscission to aid in crop load management decisions. Recently, reflectance spectroscopy-based models to predict fruitlet abscission rates were developed. Using spectroscopy, persisting fruitlets had lower reflectance in the red-light (∼600 nm) and near infrared (∼950 nm) regions than abscising fruitlets. The goal of this study was to better understand how reflectance models distinguished between fruitlets that ultimately persisted or abscised. Individual models for the difference and ratio of each combination of wavelengths were developed to identify key wavelengths for abscission prediction from reflectance models. Accuracy for wavelength difference and ratio models was improved for all model prediction dates when reflectance (R) from R640–675 was subtracted from or divided by R675–696. This spectra region indicates differences in chlorophyll content between persisting and abscising fruitlets. Calculation of the chlorophyll concentration index (R522–579:R640–700) from nondestructively measured spectra supported this result. Chlorophyll concentration index was higher for fruitlets that ultimately persisted than abscised fruitlets (P < 0.01) for all measurement dates –1 to 9 days after thinner (DAT) in both years, except –1 DAT in 2021 (P = 0.468). Plant water index (R950–970:R890–900) was lower for persisting than abscising fruitlets for 3 to 9 DAT in 2021 (P < 0.001) and on –1 (P < 0.01) and 9 DAT (P < 0.001) in 2022. The relationship of fruit size and plant pigment (anthocyanins or chlorophyll) content in fruitlets to reflectance spectra between persisting and abscising fruitlets was also followed. Fruitlet persistence or abscission was predicted from developed models for destructively sampled fruitlets using measured reflectance spectra. Whole-fruit chlorophyll content was numerically higher in fruitlets predicted to persist than abscise for all collection dates. Higher total chlorophyll was correlated to a larger fruit size in persisting than abscising fruitlets. This higher chlorophyll content led to a lower reflectance of red light and was a key factor in model development. These results indicate that chlorophyll and water content can distinguish physiological parameters between persisting and abscising fruitlets.

Open Access

Squash (Cucurbita pepo L. var. pepo) plants were grown on black polyethylene mulch or on bare ground, with trickle or furrow irrigation, and received only natural rainfall, or natural rainfall plus half or all of the estimated supplemental irrigation water required as determined by an irrigation scheduling program. The squash roots predominate in the upper 6 inches of soil throughout the season, with no less than 60% of the root mass located in this layer. The proliferation of roots increased as they extended horizontally from the vertical center line of the plant from 0 to 24 inches. Neither the irrigation treatments nor black polyethylene mulch had any influence on the pattern of root development. Water stress, however, reduced the size of the root system and the crop yield. Yields were not influenced by either furrow or trickle irrigation on the short rows that were used in this study. However, black polyethylene mulch and full irrigation offered the best chance of maximizing squash yields under the conditions of this study.

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