Effect of harvesting with a trunk shaker and an abscission chemical on fruit detachment and defoliation of citrus grown under Mediterranean conditions
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Spain ranks as the world's leading exporter of citrus for fresh consumption. Manual harvest accounts for 50% of the total production costs. Mechanical harvest would increase labor productivity and benefits of growers. Efficiency of these machines depends on the varieties and operating conditions. Use of abscission chemicals has been promoted to increase the detachment rate of fruit without affecting its quality. This work is aimed at studying whether the mechanical harvest and/or the application of an abscission agent affect the quality and quantity of harvested fruit and tree defoliation under the conditions of citrus cultivation in Spain. Trials were made in a completely randomized experimental design. From 2008 to 2011, different orchards of mandarin and orange trees were sprayed with different doses of ethephon as abscission agent and harvested with a trunk shaker. Harvest related variables (detachment percentage, defoliation and fruit without calyx) were measured. The percentage of fruit detached by the trunk shaker ranged between 70 and 85% and it did not depend on the orchard. The shaker produced minimal damage to the bark when gripped incorrectly. Increased doses of ethephon increased fruit detachment except in 'Clemenules' orchard, but also increased the fruit without calyx in 1-9%. Moreover, ethephon promoted significant defoliation. Neither gummosis nor death of branches was observed. This work demonstrates that mechanical harvesting with trunk shakers may be a feasible solution for citrus cultivated in Spain for fresh market. Use of ethephon could only be recommended for citrus destined to industry and only for certain varieties.