Cherries ripe for research

Researchers at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) are working with the State’s cherry industry to enhance productivity and fruit quality - a mouth-watering prospect for cherry lovers during the festive season.

Cherries are a significant Tasmanian crop with an annual gross food value of $64 million in 2015-2016, an increase of more than 100 per cent on the previous year. Tasmanian cherries have a strong reputation as a premium product with a large proportion exported overseas every year.

TIA Research Fellow, Dr Nigel Swarts, is leading a research team that includes post-doctoral researcher Dr Peter Quin, Associate Professor Dugald Close and PhD candidate Nadine Macha, who are looking at nitrogen use in cherry orchards around Tasmania. The project aims to help growers produce high-quality cherry fruit with the most effective use of nitrogen.

“Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for tree crops, such as cherries, and has been identified as a major factor in yield, fruit size and postharvest quality and taste. Nitrogen fertiliser is also a major proportion of farm production costs, so it’s important that the application is done right,” Dr Swarts said.

Cherries on tree

Limited information is currently available for Australian cherry growing regions about the nitrogen requirements of cherry trees and the interaction with soil nitrogen processes and total nitrogen losses from current management practices.

This project will provide Tasmanian cherry growers with the information they need to optimise their management of nitrogen to increase both the quantity and quality of cherry yields.

Over the last six months, Dr Swarts and his team have established four trials in two commercial cherry orchards in southern Tasmania.

“These trials have been strongly supported by Tasmania’s cherry industry, with growers and advisors making contributions to trial setup which have enabled them to be both grower and commercially relevant,” Dr Swarts said.  

“The trials will examine if different timing of nitrogen fertiliser application influences nitrogen use efficiency, distribution of nitrogen within the tree organs, fruit yield and quality, and nitrogen losses to the environment.”

“While some of the techniques used are non-destructive, whole tree data can only be determined with destructive sampling and we are grateful for grower support that will enabled us to excavate 24 productive cherry trees over the life of the project.”

The team is using innovative techniques to trace the movement of nitrogen within cherry trees to get a complete picture of nitrogen use. This includes using stable isotopes on a number of selected trees that will then be excavated and the movement of nitrogen within the whole tree, from roots to leaves will be examined.

From these trials, the research team will develop best management practices to maximise productivity and reduce environmental impacts for the Australian cherry industry.

This project is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural R&D for Profit programme, The University of Tasmania, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture and Hort Innovation. In-kind support is also provided by Cherry Growers Australia Inc.

This is the full version of an article that appeared in Tasmanian Country on Friday 5 January 2017.

Published on: 05 Jan 2018 12:07pm