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Safj 2023 04 Pro Hort Ecophysiology Platform
April / May 2023

The Pro-Hort Ecophysiology Platform

SA Fruit Journal: April / May 2023

A new Hortgro-funded initiative will extract more value from existing research investment. By Anna Mouton

South Africa has been called a world in one country, partly thanks to our diverse natural environment. This might be great for tourists but poses a challenge to pome- and stone-fruit growers – how do they choose the best cultivars for a site? And how do they best manage their trees?

Answering these questions requires an understanding of ecophysiology – the interactions between trees and their environment – that we often lack.
In apples, for example, we know that winter chill is central to everything from tree architecture to mixed fruit maturities. But in practice, we struggle with the optimal timing of rest-breaking treatments.

We also have a lot still to learn about the effects of seasonal temperature patterns on tree performance, flower quality and fruit size.
These challenges are compounded by climate change. Growers can no longer make assumptions about future tree behaviour based on past tree behaviour – the effects of new climatic conditions are too unpredictable.

Understanding the drivers of tree phenology would support better predictions about, for example, the effects of later or milder winters. It could also make it easier to evaluate and select cultivars.

Although comparing different cultivars grown on the same and different sites can reveal a lot about tree behaviour, suitable orchards are seldom available to researchers. But as Prof Wiehann Steyn, general manager of Hortgro Science, recognised, Hortgro already has the ideal setup for ecophysiological studies.

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