Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: February 18, 2013
Publication Date: January 1, 2014
Citation: Jaradat, A.A. 2014. Date palm: Production. In: Siddiq, M., Aleid, S.M. and Kader, A.A., editors. Dates: Postharvest Science, Processing Technology and Health Benefits. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. p. 29-55. Interpretive Summary: Numerous horticultural, nutritional, medicinal, economic, and environmental traits of the date palm singled it out as a revered tree in large parts of the world. Date palms are cultivated in 40 countries on about one million hectares in traditional oases, modern plantations, and home gardens. Climatically, the date palm is very demanding. However, it is resilient, requires limited inputs, has long-term productivity, and has multi-purpose attributes. Farmers developed management practices to fit local environmental conditions and to optimize the use of limited water and land resources along with diverse cultivars. A simplified production system of date palm plantations based on elite cultivars has been developed for date export and may gradually replace the oases. Planting one or a few high-quality date varieties may lead to genetic erosion and the disappearance of large numbers of adapted and genetically-diverse cultivars. However, the emerging organic date production sector will help promote and enhance oases health, ensure premiums for small farmers to practice sustainable production methods, and contribute to environmental protection. Breeding, selection and improvement of new cultivars are needed to maintain a regular and steady supply of quality fruit to a growing world market, to combat pests and diseases, and to withstand climate change. Large-scale production of elite date palm cultivars using tissue culture may enhance vulnerability of the date palm to insect, disease, drought, and high temperature stresses. More sustainable solutions to production problems are needed in traditional oases and modern plantations. Horticulturists and producers will benefit from information on problems and opportunities for the date palm industry and research needs to overcome these problems.
Technical Abstract: The future of date palm, as a dioecious, monocot fruit tree largely depends on (1) developing advanced knowledge and information about the dynamics, management, and sustainability of the tree as a central component of the oasis agro-ecosystem, and (2) in-depth understanding of the genetic diversity of the species and its wild relatives using analytical and predictive powers of quantitative trait loci, somatic cell hybridization, and genomics to overcome some of the genetic research limitations. The bulk of future research on date palm will be carried out in Middle Eastern and North African countries where dates are an important economic commodity and the date palm is a culturally significant fruit tree. More sustainable solutions to production problems are needed in traditional oases and modern plantation ecosystems. The applied research challenge is to develop and optimize “toolbox” packages for both ecosystems, including a strong integrated pest management component. Future advances in developing date palm cultivars with high yield and better quality will depend on the identification or development of molecular and phenotypic markers that may assist in identifying economically- and agronomically-important traits and cultivars. Genes or gene complexes of potential use in meeting these future challenges may well be present in non-elite date palm cultivars or seedlings found in traditional oases but their presence and characteristics are largely unknown. Therefore, traditional farmers should be encouraged with incentives to replant orchards with locally-produced highly heterozygous and heterogeneous offshoots or seedlings.