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Yield potential definition of the chilling requirement reveals likely underestimation of the risk of climate change on winter chill accumulation

Campoy, José Antonio, Darbyshire, Rebecca, Dirlewanger, Elisabeth, Quero-García, José, Wenden, Bénédicte
International journal of biometeorology 2019 v.63 no.2 pp. 183-192
Prunus avium, bioclimatology, budbreak, chilling requirement, climate, climate change, cold, crops, cultivars, flowering, fruit trees, fruits, industry, landscapes, orchards, profitability, risk, winter, Europe
Evaluation of chilling requirements of cultivars of temperate fruit trees provides key information to assess regional suitability, according to winter chill, for both industry expansion and ongoing profitability as climate change progresses. Traditional methods for calculating chilling requirements use climate-controlled chambers and define chilling requirements (CR) using a fixed bud burst percentage, usually close to 50% (CR-50%). However, this CR-50% definition may estimate chilling requirements that lead to flowering percentages that are lower than required for orchards to be commercially viable. We used sweet cherry to analyse the traditional method for calculating chilling requirements (CR-50%) and compared the results with a more restrictive method, where the chilling requirement was defined by a 90% bud break level (CRₘ-90%). For sweet cherry, this higher requirement of flowering success (90% as opposed to 50%) better represents grower production needs as a greater number of flowers leads to greater potential yield. To investigate the future risk of insufficient chill based on alternate calculations of the chilling requirement, climate projections of winter chill suitability across Europe were calculated using CR-50% and CRₘ-90%. Regional suitability across the landscape was highly dependent on the method used to define chilling requirements, and differences were found for both cold and mild winter areas. Our results suggest that bud break percentage levels used in the assessment of chilling requirements for sweet cherry influence production risks of current and future production areas. The use of traditional methods to determine chilling requirements can result in an underestimation of productivity chilling requirements for tree crops like sweet cherry which rely on a high conversion of flowers to mature fruit to obtain profitable yields. This underestimation may have negative consequences for the fruit industry as climate change advances with climate risk underestimated.