In coffee, fruit production on a given shoot drops after some years of high yield, triggering pruning to induce resprouting. The timing of pruning is a crucial farmer's decision affecting yield and labour. One reason for fruit production drop could be the exhaustion of resources, particularly the non-structural carbohydrates (NSC). To test this hypothesis in a Coffea L. arabica agroforestry system, we measured the concentrations of NSC, carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) in leaves, stems and stumps of the coffee plants, 2 and 5 years after pruning. We also compared shaded vs full sun plants. For that purpose, both analytical reference and visible and near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (VNIRS) methods were used. As expected, concentrations of biochemical variables linked to photosynthesis activity (N, glucose, fructose, sucrose) decreased from leaves to stems, and then to stumps. In contrast, variables linked more closely to plant structure and reserves (total C, C:N ratio, starch concentration) were higher in long lifespan organs like stumps. Shading had little effect on most measured parameters, contrary to expectations. Concentrations of N, glucose and fructose were higher in 2-year-old organs. Conversely, starch concentration in perennial stumps was three times higher 5 years after pruning than 2 years after pruning, despite high fruit production. Therefore, the drop in fruit production occurring after 5-6 years was not due to a lack of NSC on plant scale. Starch accumulation in perennial organs concurrently to other sinks, such as fruit growth, could be considered as a 'survival' strategy, which may be a relic of the behaviour of wild coffee (a tropical shade-tolerant plant). This study confirmed that VNIRS is a promisingly rapid and cost-effective option for starch monitoring (coefficient of determination for validation, R2val = 0.91), whereas predictions were less accurate for soluble sugars, probably due to their too similar spectral signature.
Keywords: agroforestry system; non-structural carbohydrates (NSC); perennial plant; reserves; visible and near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (VNIRS).
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