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TAS Country : January 17th 2013
10 Friday, Janu News RIPE HARVEST: Penny Measham and ot The pick of the cherries Cuppa TIA Feedback: Cuppa.TIA@utas.edu.au MICHELE BUNTAIN THINK of a business that could lose 70 per cent of its annual income in two days. Share trading or gambling spring to mind. In fact, this is often the reality of horticulture, particularly fresh fruit pro- duction. Frost, rain, hail and even heat can turn a perfect peach into an ''Ugly Betty'' in a matter of hours. We buy with our eyes. What may be a scrumptious, but slightly wonky, apple from our home garden is given the flick by supermarkets. In a turnaround for producers in the UK, major retailers this season agreed to relax specifications in response to Britain's dismal spring and summer weather that seriously depleted supplies of quality fruit and vegetables. This meant more than 300,000 tonnes of less than beautiful produce went on to the shelves for sale. While this is great news for UK producers, Tasmanian fruit rides on its reputation for premium quality, which is demanded by export markets. In this CuppaTIA, we look at how the TIA Perennial Horticulture Centre re- search team is helping to maintain this reputation and increase profitability for producers. For cherry growers this means the maximum number of big, sweet, firm, blemish-free fruit. In collaboration with Washington St- ate University, TIA researchers are attempting to build a picture of the ideal cherry tree that produces the best fruit. Pollination and flowering are carefully scrutinised. Some varieties often do not produce enough fruit; others produce too many small fruits. Researchers and growers observed that more fruit sets when conditions are cool to mild during flowering, as the flower stays receptive to pollination for longer. TIA Senior Research Fellow Dr Sally Bound sums up what motivates the research team: ''Our biggest challenge is to understand what makes each variety tick and how the tree interacts with the environment so that growers can achieve profitable yields of high quality fruit every year.'' For the research team, all this involves a lot of counting and measuring. Last season about 25,000 cherries were indi- vidually harvested, weighed, prodded, measured and scrutinised. After all this planning, with big, luscious cherries ripening on the tree, you would think it was time to sit back and relax before harvest. Not so. Late season rains can crack near-ripe fruit making the cherries unsaleable. For some growers the labour cost of picking and sorting cherries after a rain can be so high and the returns so low, that they simply walk away. ''It's heartbreaking because it's such a high-input, high-risk crop,'' said research fellow Dr Penny Measham. Research led by Dr Measham began with the modest aim to reduce cracking by 10 per cent, and exceeded all expectations, reducing cracking by 50 per cent in one year. In what may initially seem counter intuitive, irrigating regularly through the season to keep the tree free of any moisture stress has a profound effect on building the fruit's resistance to cracking. This gives the fruit a ''stretchy'' skin, rather than a tight, firm skin ready to crack. Irrigation management is just one of many strategies that TIA research is uncovering. Pruning the tree during a rain event is a promising technique for reducing cracking without affecting fruit quality. Protective sprays, nutrition and main- taining enough fruit on the tree are all contributing to a more resilient cherry and a less stressful harvest time for cherry growers. It is heartening to see major UK retailers responding with common sense to the effects that extreme weather can have on the quality of fresh produce. Helping growers to produce high quality fruit, means we can still cherish this wonderful fruit in our festive season. Michele Buntain is a horticultural- ist and extension officer in the Perennial Horticulture Centre at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture. Changing climate predicted to brin IN this week's Climate Note we take a very quick trip into the future weather outlook for Tasmania. First, here's a quick round-up of the current three-month outlooks from the Bureau of Meteorology: The odds of higher-than-median sum- mer rainfall remain at about 50 per cent for much of Tasmania. In other words, there's a 50/50 chance of above and below- average rainfall. Not much news there. However, there is a 65-75 per cent chance of getting higher-than-average maximum temperatures. These high odds are driven by warm conditions in the Indian Ocean. This might mean an early harvest for some, while others might take pre- cautions against the effects of heatwaves or higher evaporation. Looking much further ahead, climate models can give us an indication of what a warmer world is likely to mean for Tasmania. A Tasmanian project called Climate Futures for Tasmania (CFT) simulated our future climate with six global models and found some remarkably consistent patterns. One of the big drivers of East Coast rainfall in summer is the weather system known as a blocking high.
January 10th 2013
January 24th 2013