TIFTON — Increased yields and a longer growing season are the benefits of using a shading mechanism for bell peppers, according to University of Georgia horticulturist Juan Carlos Diaz-Perez.
In a collaborative study, Diaz-Perez is studying the effects shading has on bell pepper plants, in regards to reducing the physiologicaldisorders that negatively impact the crop. So far, the research has yielded positive results.
“I definitely feel that shading provides significant benefits to the growers. I have no questions that the technique works,” Diaz-Perez said. “The idea was based on the fact that bell peppers show a lot of physiological disorders in the fruit, basically disorders that affect fruit quality.” Diaz-Perez has used tent-like structures to shade bellpepper plant beds. Similar shading systems were used in Spain and Israel, places with similar climates as Georgia, and succeeded. It’s why Diaz-Perez pursued the project at the UGA Tifton Campus.
High temperatures can lead to scalding on bell peppers and other vegetables in early summer. This leads to higher incidences of physiological disorders, a reduction in yields and a less marketable fruit. Diaz-Perez said yield reduction could be as drastic as 30 to 50 percent.
During his study, Diaz-Perez used different levels of shading to dodge direct sunlight. Diaz-Perez tested the shading levels at 30, 47, 62 and 80 percent. He said that the fruit’s nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus levels increased with the shading, while calcium, magnesium and sulfur levels were not impacted.
“I would say that heat stress is a general problem for all crops. I would expect all crops to benefit from relief of heat stress, especially during the peak of the summer,” Perez said. “One of the advantages of this system is that in the summer when the spring bell pepper plant stops producing fruit, this system would allow you to possibly get an extension of that harvest time. Lets say under direct sunlight, your plants might stop producing fruit in the second week of July. With this system, you might get two more weeks of extra harvest time.”
An extended harvest time would make bell peppers an even more attractive crop for farmers to grow than they already are. According to the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, bell peppers was second in farm gate value for Georgia vegetables in 2014, totaling $138.9 million, accounting for 13.9 percent of the state’s vegetables.
Diaz-Perez’s objective now is to develop a strategy that would allow farmers to implement this technique at a manageable cost.
“We want to develop a structure that’s going to be affordable enough for the growers,” Perez said. “It has to be affordable for the growers to jump on it.”