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Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture

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Published: 7 Dec 2018

Cherry cracking triggered by rain at harvest is a big deal for cherry growers.

New student-powered research at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) is looking at two very different protection systems to ease the rain pain for growers.

TIA honours student Tae Ocean (pictured above) is literally heading ‘under cover’ in his research of Voen rain covers.

“Voen rain covers offer protection and have self-venting flaps that release hot air. What we need to find out is how they affect fruit quality,” Mr Ocean said.

“There has been a lot of anecdotal talk that fruit from this system is not as crunchy.  

“My research will compare fruit quality from under the Voen covers with fruit from a traditionally netted orchard, particularly focussing on fruit firmness.

“I want to see if cherries at the edge are experiencing a different set of conditions to those further in under the covers and how this translates to fruit quality.

“Ultimately, this could be used to help manage the environment under covers by potentially using fans to help move pockets of hot or humid air at critical times.”  

Mr Ocean said he is excited to be finally researching an issue that has been playing on his mind since first seeing the covers at Hansen Orchards.

“It’s a crazy environment for growing trees – there is less moisture stress and the trees are lush and vigorous.”

“I love that we don’t see any water splits in fruit grown under these covers. The environment under the covers is very different, a lot more humid, with less air movement, and often hotter.”

Hansen Orchards manager Ryan Hankin said that while rain covers have taken out the biggest risk factor for growing cherries, there is still a lot they don’t know about crop management.

“Covers have revolutionised our cherry operation – we can now consistently produce a quality crop every season, but we are still learning the best way to manage covered crops,” he said.

“The trees are more vigorous and while our fertiliser and water inputs are lower, we are irrigating over a longer period.  

“This research will help us better understand what is actually happening to fruit quality and the environment under the covers so that we can make better-informed decisions.”

Another TIA honours student, Lim Jing Jie, is testing a new spray-on product called Parka™ that aims to reduce cherry cracking. Both he and Mr Ocean are supervised by TIA scientist Dr Sally Bound.

“Parka basically shields each cherry with an edible, super-thin, stretchy and biodegradable raincoat,” Dr Bound said.

“It’s the product of years of research by Oregon State University and commercial partner Cultiva.

“Parka works by filling in any micro cracks on the fruit surface, preventing them developing into bigger cracks,” she said.

Dr Bound and Lim Jing Jie are testing how well Parka™ works in Tasmania, analysing the ideal timing and number of applications needed for Tasmanian cherries, and finding out how effective it is under Tasmanian conditions.

The TIA honours program allows final year agricultural science students like Tae and Lim to gain practical, industry relevant experience under the mentorship of experienced TIA researchers whilst contributing new science knowledge for industry.

This article appeared in the Tasmanian Country newspaper on 7 December 2018.