Water productivity of high performing apple orchards in the winter rainfall area of South Africa

S.J.E. Midgley, S. Dzikiti, T. Volschenk, F.S. Zirebwa, N.J. Taylor, M.B. Gush, E. Lötze, Z. Ntshidi, N. Mobe
Increasing pressure on South Africa’s water resources from rising and competing user demand and climate change threatens the sustainability of the deciduous fruit industry. Commercial apple production in South Africa is entirely reliant on irrigation. Furthermore, high yielding (>100 t ha‑1) apple orchards have become common, raising the need for detailed information on water use and water productivity (WP) of these orchards. This study, conducted from 2014 to 2017, investigated the dynamics of water use in four ‘Golden Delicious’ and four ‘Cripps Pink’ orchards in the winter rainfall Western Cape region. Yields ranged between 11 and 140 t ha‑1 in younger to full-bearing orchards. The orchards were in two key apple producing regions with contrasting climates. The full study included detailed quantification of orchard water use using sap flow sensors, eddy covariance evapotranspiration (ET) measurements, and ET modelling. In this paper we present the analysis of WP, together with fruit quality and gross income. We define WP as kg of fruit produced m‑3 of water consumed, based on both whole tree transpiration (T) and ET. We also calculate “economic water productivity” (EWP) as gross income m‑3 of water consumed. The key driver of WP (T-based) was the canopy leaf area. However, lower transpiration from smaller canopies of ‘Cripps Pink’ was compensated by higher evaporation from the orchard floor, resulting in comparable WP (ET-based) between the cultivars. WP based on ET increased with increasing yield. Differences in ET due to the length of the growing season were insignificant since the canopies continued to be active for ca. eight weeks between harvest (mid-April) and late autumn (early June) in both cultivars. Exceptionally high yields resulted in smaller fruit size in ‘Golden Delicious’ orchards which reduced the pack out of export quality fruit and lowered the EWP. The premium prices obtained for ‘Cripps Pink’ compared to ‘Golden Delicious’ drove up the EWP.
Midgley, S.J.E., Dzikiti, S., Volschenk, T., Zirebwa, F.S., Taylor, N.J., Gush, M.B., Lötze, E., Ntshidi, Z. and Mobe, N. (2020). Water productivity of high performing apple orchards in the winter rainfall area of South Africa. Acta Hortic. 1281, 479-486
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2020.1281.63
evapotranspiration, fruit quality, gross income, transpiration, yield, economic water productivity

Acta Horticulturae