- Author: Jeanette Warnert
California avocados are the best in the world. So says downtown restaurant manager Daniel Avalos in a Valley Public Radio story by reporter Ezra David Romero.
The fact that they currently thrive only on a small swath of coastal Southern California is being challenged by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Mary Lu Arpaia. She is on a mission to find avocado varieties that withstand the hot summers and cold winters of the San Joaquin Valley, where irrigation water and crop land are more abundant and cheaper.
She hopes to find avocado varieties that ripen at various times of year, and varieties that might be an alternative crop for citrus growers should huanglongbing, a disease that has devastated the Florida citrus crop, take hold in Central California.
"There's a void of California fruit on the market in the months of November, December and actually early January," Arpaia said. "So if we can find different selections that maybe are unique that fit into that window, then we help the entire California avocado industry."
Romero visited the UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center to see the trees in Arpaia's study. Currently, the vast majority of California avocados are the Hass variety. The goal is to breed varieties with similar eating quality that grow to a moderate height and have high yield. One potential that is already being produced by nurseries is called "gem."
"This is gem," said Eric Focht, a staff research associate in Arpaia's lab. "You can see it's a little more oval or egg shaped than Hass. It has the speckling on the skin. Now as this ripens, it will turn dark and a lot of times the speckled lenticels with get a yellow kind of golden color it it."
Another promising variety is called "lunchbox" because of its small size. According to Focht, it "just falls out of the skin." Arpaia said, "It makes wonderful guacamole and I found, with a non-replicated test in my refrigerator, the fruit doesn't brown."
Arpaia's favorite guacamole recipe is featured at the end of the story on the KVPR website. And there is more on this story at:
Mary Lu Arpaia
Old crop, new crop. What's up there in the trees? Are they big enough to sell? Is there a good set for next year? These are questions every avocado grower has every year, and often all year long. What is up there in the trees is confounded by what is called the "Avocado Illusion".
In a Science Magazine Letters to the Editor in Dec 1990, Paul Sandorff commented on a book written by Maurice Hershenson called The Moon Illusion. In the book Hershenson described the illusion of why the moon seemed so much larger when it was on the horizon than when it rose to its zenith on the same night.
Sandorff said that this illusion applied to avocados since it was so hard to gauge the size of avocados when they were in the tops of the tree canopy. It is the surrounding environment that puts a context to size according to this theory of illusion.
Hershenson added to this observation in the March 1991 Science letters section with the comment that the leaves surrounding the fruit changes our depth perception and so changes our idea of the fruit size.
A further addendum to the avocado illusion theory is that since the fruit are the same color as the leaves (they are both dark green and the fruit unlike most other fruit continues to photosynthesize), it is hard to actually make out the fruit. You can be looking right at the fruit and not see it, confusing it with a leaf.
This illusion makes for difficult fruit estimation. To compensate for this illusion, I will eye the canopy in quadrants, counting the number of fruit, then arbitrarily doubling that total number. It usually gives a pretty close number to the real number of fruit that are in the tree.
Can you count the number of fruit in this canopy?
'Pixie' mandarin is a very vigorous, upright tree. Although the fruit is small, hence its name, it can produce fruit on the ends of long branches which deform the canopy structure, making it hard to pick. The sweet, seedless fruit is worth picking, though. The rootstock standards for this small industry are ‘Citrumelo' and ‘C-35' citrange. The industry is looking for alternatives to these choices, especially those that reduce the vigor of the trees.
There is no one ideal rootstock at this point and growers have the option of a wide range of choices. The search includes those that are resistant to Citrus Tristeza Virus (CTV), Phytophthora, calcareous soils and ideally one that is resistant to the bacteria that causes Huanglongbing.
In many California coastal growing areas, land is expensive, water scarce and costly and prone to calcareous soils that are derived from marine sediments which can bring on iron chlorosis. Growers are also looking for smaller trees that will give early economic returns, are easier to prune and pick, and may be more compatible with the economics driven by Huanglongbing.
‘Citrumelo' citrange yields a large tree with good quality and quantity of fruit. It is tolerant of CTV (Citrus tristeza virus) and Phytophthora spp, but is susceptible to iron chlorosis in high pH soils. ‘C-35' citrange is a smaller tree than Citrumelo, also has resistance to Phytophthora spp and CTV, and is more tolerant of high pH soils.
The USDA had a breeding program in California which was taken over by the University of California. Out of this breeding project, the university selected three rootstocks for release in 2009 because of their horticultural characteristics, such as dwarfing, although not as much as ‘Flying Dragon' trifoliate, resistance to CTV and tolerance of calcareous soils. These three rootstocks also show good tolerance to Phytophthora parasitica and nematodes.
Pixie growers have been looking for a more compact tree, easier to handle and not need so much pruning. They funded a long-term project to see how these newer selections of rootstock performed in their area which has a hot summer/cool winter. A 2014 planting of ‘Pixie' has been evaluating the size reducing effects of the relatively new rootstocks ‘Bitters' citrange, ‘Carpenter' citrange and ‘Furr' citrange. After two years, ‘Pixie' on ‘Citrumelo' is the largest tree. Of the new rootstocks, ‘Furr' is the largest and ‘Bitters' the smallest. The trial was replicated at two sites with two different pH soils. At one site with the highest soil pH, ‘Bitters' showed iron chlorosis.
Photo: long whip growth on 'Pixie'
A recent grower survey in Santa Barbara County asked a whole bunch of questions. One of which was had they had an evaluation of irrigation distribution uniformity. This is a free service that can significantly improve on-farm water use and most importantly improve plant health. Avocados that don't get the right amount of water at the right time are extremely susceptible to root rot. Proper irrigation is the first line of defense against root rot, good farming that results in good economic returns to the grower.
So, with a free DU available to growers, how many do you think took advantage of the service? Barely 50%!!!!!!!! This just does not make sense. In a land of little water and frequent examples of what can happen with no water ………………..and high priced water, what is going on?
The local Resource Conservation District has done many system evaluations, and most results find that improvements can be made in distribution uniformity. This is true in relatively new irrigation installations. It does not take long for problems to occur in even well designed and installed systems.
During the summer of 2007, the Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) contracted with the Irrigation Training and Research Center (ITRC) of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, to conduct field evaluations of drip/micro systems. A team of two students conducted 35 field evaluations.
Distribution Uniformity (DU) – DU is a measure of the uniformity of water application to trees throughout an orchard, with DU = 1.0 being perfect. The measured orchard DUs in the Santa Barbara/Ventura area had an average DU of 0.66, while the California state average for drip/micro is 0.85.
In general, there were substantial opportunities to improve the distribution uniformity (DU) of the water to trees throughout an orchard. An improved DU will minimize over-irrigation in some areas, and reduce under-irrigation in others. Key recommendations that were provided included:
Install a pressure regulator at the head of every hose
With a regular microsprinkler, doubling the pressure causes about 40 percent more water to come out of the nozzle. Pressure regulators are added to have similar pressures throughout the orchard and thus reduce the risk of over-irrigating portions of the field. On many farms, the difference between the highest pressures was double or even triple the lowest pressures (40-70% more water). By adding the correct high-quality, pre-set pressure regulators with the correct flow rate rating, the farmer can get similar pressures to every nozzle and prevent over-irrigation.
For a pressure regulator (PR) to work, more pressure must enter the PR than what the PR is rated for. For example, to use a 25 psi PR, you need at least 27 psi into the PR. All a PR does is reduce pressure; it cannot add pressure.
Another problem on hillsides is that some pipes have as much as 100 psi before the PR. A PR can effectively reduce the pressure down to 50%. What is recommended in these fields is to reduce the pressure in the pipe by adding an in-line valve halfway down the hill and throttling it down to a reasonable pressure.
Completely replace all microsprinkers with pressure compensating microsprinklers
Pressure compensating microsprinklers have an internal flexible diaphragm that reduces a pathway as the pressure increases. These allow similar amounts of water to get the trees even if the hoses do not have the same pressures. Whenever the pressure is doubled, 10 percent more water will come out of these emitters, compared to 40 percent more water with a regular microsprinkler. Having pressure compensating emitters can drastically improve the DU in virtually every avocado orchard because most irrigation systems were not properly designed for microsprinkler systems, or because the farmer has altered the original design by adding different-sized nozzles.
Reduce plugging problems
Major plugging problems are found in all orchards that did not have good filtration, even those that get district water. There were also some “within-system” causes of plugging. Almost all plugging is from simple dirt or rust, as opposed to bacteria or algae. Recommendations are as follows:
- Always have a filter at the head of the system. The required mesh size depends on the microsprinkler flow rate, but 120 mesh is a starting point.
- Remove hose screen washers that are found at the head of hoses, and replace them with regular washers (after installing a filter at the head of the system). The hose screen washers often plug up and cause the hoses to have unequal inlet pressures.
- Be sure to thoroughly flush hoses after any hose breaks.
- Double check the type of fertilizer that is being injected, especially any “organic fertilizers”. Some of these can plug emitters. In any case, inject the fertilizers upstream of the filters. If the filter plugs up, it is better to have discovered the problem early.
- Clean the filters frequently. Install pressure gauges upstream and downstream. When the pressure differential (as compared to a clean screen) increases by 3-5 psi, it's time to clean the screen.
In some orchards, there is a big plugging problem caused by insects crawling into emitters after the water is shut off. Many of the new microsprinkler designs utilize a self-closing mechanism to prevent insects from coming into the nozzle.
We have gotten a reprieve with the rains and refilled reservoirs, but it is ever more important to make sure our irrigation systems are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Call your local Resource Conservation District and get information about a system evaluation. Contact numbers can be found at: http://www.carcd.org/rcd_directory0.aspx
At a recent Fresh Index-sponsored meeting, David Crowley recently of UC Riverside talked of a five year-long study that assessed nutritional status and yield. This has been a study area that has long been confused by the problems of alternate bearing, weather-dependency of the avocado, soil variability, root rot, etc. etc. etc. that we all know about. There are nutrient interactions that confound results, as well. High phosphorus affects micronutrient uptake of zinc, copper and others. Zinc impedes copper uptake. Loss of roots from Phytophthora especially affects micronutrients. Irrigation and aeration again affects nutrient uptake, and especially micronutrients.
The elements coming from the soil are divided into primary nutrients, secondary nutrients and micronutrients. This grouping is based on the relative amounts required by plants, but all are essential. Crowley describes the relative need for each element being based on the “Law of the Minimum”; if only one element is deficient it eventually affects growth and yield of the entire plant in a negative manner. It doesn't matter how much the other nutrients are raised, if one is limiting, growth is limited by that one. The primary nutrients required by avocados are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The secondary nutrients required are calcium, magnesium and sulfur. The micronutrients are zinc, iron, manganese, copper, boron, molybdenum, nickel and chlorine.
The Law applies not just to nutrients but to light, temperature, water, disease, pests – anything that affects growth. The limiting input needs to be fixed before the others can boost growth to whatever the biological maximum might be in that environment. In irrigated agriculture, water is the most common limiting input.
So, it is complex. Really complex. But with computers and different techniques of analysis and just looking at nutrients, Crowley has been able to get a better handle on what could be limiting growth in an individual grove. This applies not to what is lacking, but what might be in excess – too much chloride, too much nitrogen, too much…………….
So, in the case of all this data collection the Crowley team has done, something unusual has popped up. Copper deficiency.
Copper deficiency is not commonly recognized as a problem in California avocado groves, but occasionally a grower will report a leaf analysis showing less copper than the 5ppm recommended by Embleton (http://ucavo.ucr.edu/General/LeafAnalysis.html). Typical copper deficiency was reported by Barnard and others (http://www.avocadosource.com/Journals/SAAGA/SAAGA_1991/SAAGA_1991_PG_67-71.pdf). They reported the symptoms of copper deficiency as follows: • Dull appearance of older leaves • Prominent leaf veination • Reddish-brown leaf color • Premature defoliation and twig. This is an extreme case, and Crowley is suggesting there may be some low, chronic level that limits avocado. His final report can be found at:
Of course, why copper might be limiting is another question. Is it due to root rot? Interaction with other applied materials like phosphorus (not phosphite, phosphorous, phosphonate) fertilizers? With irrigation management? Something(s) to think about.
And citrus in California is a different beast. It can commonly show copper deficiency and be a limiting nutrient. We apply copper as a frost/brown rot/septoria spray and as a result don't often see deficiency in citrus.
Liebig's Barrel. Optimum production occurs when all the barrel staves are as high as they can be. When one element is low, that becomes the limiting factor for production. Increased production doesn't occur until that uptake is improved and then the next limiting input restricts production. When that next one is corrected, then some other input then limits production. Correction keeps improving production until the biological limit is reached.
Have any readers actually seen a wooden barrel?