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Climate change impact on apple production

Victoria is the major growing area of apples and pears in Australia. In 2008, Victoria produced 39% of Australia’s apples and 89% of the nation’s pears.

Recent research by the University of Melbourne has highlighted that climate change will impact on the variety of apples displayed on the shelves of Australian supermarkets in future years.

The research says:

Fruit tree orchards are particularly vulnerable to climate change, with changes likely to affect variables on which orchard productivity is reliant such as cold winter temperatures and extreme summer heat.

Apart from increased erratic weather (such as the Harcourt ‘tornado’ of 2016, the damage from heavy rain to the 2012 harvest, etc) and increased water stress, there is the growing problem of hotter days, which can impact on fruit quality.

According to news reports, northern Victoria faces a “real threat from a rise in the number of hot days in January that could lead to ‘sun damage’ on Royal Gala apples.”

Report author Rebecca Darbyshire said northern Victorian growers got a blast of hot weather in early 2009 that illustrated the severe potential consequences of sun damage.

Dr Darbyshire and fellow researcher Sigfredo Fuentes also investigated the possible impact of climate change on flowering times for Pink Lady apples (also known as Cripps Pink apple).

The investigators found that "flowering will likely be delayed as climate change progresses".

"This means that flowering will occur in warmer temperatures which may have positive (increased final yields) and negative (lower firmness values and greater yellow background colour) impacts on production."

"(For) early season varieties it is a significant risk and they've already experienced it, this is happening. Some of the growers lost huge amounts of their crop, somewhere between 30 and 70 per cent," she said.

"What we found is that that risk of damage is likely to definitely increase into the future. By 2030 on average about nine days in January will be crossing the threshold for damage for Royal Gala, that's nearly a third of the whole month," she said.

The research, the product of a national project led by the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre (PICCC), a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and Agriculture Victoria identified a range of adaptation strategies, such as like installing netting, that will reduce the impacts on fruit production.

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