Microclimate alterations caused by agricultural hail net coverage and effects on apple tree yield in subtropical climate of Southern Brazil

ABSTRACT The use of hail net coverage on plants is an effective measure to mitigate damage caused by hailstorms. In southern Brazil, areas with apple orchards under hail net coverage have increased in recent years. However, little is known about the possible effects on the microclimate and, consequently, on plant growth, crop yield and fruit quality. The hypothesis of this study was that hail net promotes microclimate and yield changes in apple orchards. The objective was to characterize the microclimate and production of apple trees cultivated under hail nets and to consequently generate numeric parameters that can be used in the management of apple orchards and in crop modeling. The study was conducted in commercial orchards growing under hail net and open sky. Continuous measurements of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), air temperature and humidity, wind speed and rainfall were performed. Production was assessed based on the number and weight of fruits per plant. The hail nets reduced PAR by 32.8% and the wind speed by 30%. In contrast, coverage did not alter the air temperature, humidity or rainfall. The yield of apples tends to be higher under hail net and this is more pronounced when one hailstorm event occur. These results are important for researchers, and apple farmers to establish criteria for decision making regarding the implementation of hail net coverage and to develop appropriate management systems for protecting orchards to ensure and improve fruit production. Overall, the effects of long-term micrometeorological factors are essential to perform modeling of agricultural production.