There has been very little literature on the spatial variability of fruit production in horticulture crops published to date. Most of the existing literature refers to data collected at picking time. Crop load data taken prior to hand thinning and prior to harvest were collected in 3 blocks of a commercial apple (Malus domestica Borkh.) orchard in the Po valley (Ferrara, Italy). The purpose of the survey was to characterize the within field variability of crop load, using spatial statistics, and assess the effectiveness of the hand-thinning treatment to eliminate this variability. Crop load estimations were taken at 156 sites pre and post hand-thinning over a defined distance (0.8 m) and the data used to model a variogram and associated spatial analysis. Variation in the spatial distribution of the fruit load prior to the hand-thinning was observed, indicating a possibility to spatially differentially manage the orchard. No spatial variation in fruit number was observed prior to harvest (post thinning), indicating that thinning had removed the previously observed spatial variation in crop load. However, the spatial variation observed prior to thinning may indicate that a differential crop load management strategy may be optimal for maximizing quality in the orchard.
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