Based on the specific needs of the two sectors of the fruit industry in Washington State, our research goals can be summarized as follows.
Training systems: optimization of training systems (e.g. introduction of new training systems such as bi-axis and vertical axis) to improve fruit quality, increase production and regulate crop load, optimize treatment efficiency and mainly to “make space” for mechanization in order to reduce production (labor) costs and improve labor safety.
Cosmic Crisp™: study and develop the optimal production techniques for the brand new cultivar Cosmic Crisp™ (WA38) (expected to be released by WSU in 2017) to optimize production capacity and fruit quality. In concert with the breeder activity, the study will cover orchard management, training system, production habitus characterization, and selection of the best rootstocks.
Mechanical pruning: developing and promoting pruning mechanization, which represents a significant saving in labor and partially solves the current lack of effective thinning products.
Light management: reduce and control excess of light exposition in the orchards, in order to reduce crop losses, due to sunburn on fruit, and limit photoinhibition and photo-oxidative stress for the tree. Netting technology (use of photoselective nets over the orchard) might contribute to solving sunburn and related water management issues.
Manchurian crab replacement: find alternative pollinizers for the apple industry. The study conduct in concert with other National institution in the next years will evaluate the blooming time, the bloom intensity, the pollen viability, the flower features as well as the S-alleles identification.
The early bloom Manchurian crab apple, currently the most adopted pollinizer in commercial Washington State apple orchards, was introduced in the State in the 80's. The fungi now known to colonize the tree can cause serious diseases that banished WA apples export from the Chinese market in the last years.
Reducing excessive vigor: reduce, with different techniques, excessive vigor in existing Low Density Planting pear orchards in order to: facilitate the introduction of mechanization (positively impacting all major management operations such as pruning, chemical treatment, harvesting); improve fruit quality homogeneity by reducing the effects of canopy shading and maturity distribution in the canopy.
Control vigor: reduce the impact of vigor in new orchards by identifying and introducing new dwarfing rootstocks, developing specific training system and defining new orchard design strategies for pear production in WA, in order to maximize production levels without reducing fruit quality.
Uniformity of maturity: drastically improving uniformity of fruit maturity and ripening on the tree to improve fruit quality to enhance storability. Studying the effects of light exposure, determine the chemical compounds and gene involved in the ripening process, together with specific training systems and pruning regimes will lead to uniform fruit maturity of the orchard.
The DA-Meter, an innovative, non-destructive portable tool patented by the University of Bologna which can allow readings of a fruit maturity index directly on the tree, will allow us to sort, map and characterize differences in fruit maturation on the tree according to the different bearing woods, training systems or fruit position in the canopy weeks before harvest and follow the maturity evolution until the optimal picking time. Based on DA-Meter data, it would be possible to adopt proper pruning and other techniques in order to increase the homogeneity of fruit maturity at harvest.
New cultivars: introducing new cultivars qualitatively better than those existing on the market.
After more than 20 years of cultivar breeding, Dr. Musacchi recently released four brand new pear cultivars; three of them are already present in Washington State.