Three family-owned and -operated farms are participating in this team project. Founded in 2002, Tanglewood Berry Farm grows over 7 acres of berries and hops. Certified organic methods have been used on the 5 acre blackberry field since 2015 while conventional methods (excluding restricted use pesticides) are presently used on the remaining acreage. Rhoads Farm, Inc. has over 40 years of experience growing 35+ acres of strawberries, blackberries, peaches and vegetables. Conventional methods are used by Rhoads Farm in their crop production activities. Indiana Springs Berry Farm is a USDA certified organic 2-acre blackberry operation that was founded in 2016.
This project will evaluate the economic viability of small-scale strawberry production using an elevated cropping system under field conditions. Elevated cropping systems are currently used in controlled greenhouse environments where growers achieve high yields, quality fruit and efficient harvests. However, these systems are not adapted for field use. The biggest problems associated with using a field elevated system for strawberries are keeping soil temperatures below 77F and preventing excessive water loss.
The proposed system will be economical to build and uses a novel design to solve these problems. Growing troughs will be protected by reflective shade netting and constructed from materials with evaporative cooling properties. A media mix with low thermal conductivity will be used to reduce soil temperature changes. Wireless sensors will monitor soil moisture and temperature and signal the automated drip irrigation system. Efficient heat transfer, reflection of the sun’s radiation and timed irrigation events will regulate temperature and water levels.
Strawberries will be positioned at waist-level for easier harvesting and plant work. Workers should experience less stress on their backs and knees with this system compared to conventional ground systems. Workers will get health benefits while growers should see greater harvest efficiencies and higher profits.
- Identify strawberry cultivars which give the best yields and harvest efficiencies in an elevated field production system.
- Assess worker benefits of using an elevated
- Identify the most cost-effective configuration of wireless sensors and controllers to monitor media moisture and temperature (media and air).
- Evaluate the use of growing troughs and shade netting constructed from materials which can prevent heat build- up in the growing media through evaporative cooling, reflection of the sun’s radiation and thermal
- Share findings at field days hosted in Indiana and Ohio, the farms’ Facebook websites and at a conference presentation.
This project uses a prototype elevated strawberry cropping system that is designed for field use in regions where labor efficiencies and temperature extremes can significantly reduce the profitability of small-scale strawberry production. Over-riding considerations for the development of a prototype system are: 1) return on investment for growers and 2) an ergonomic system designed to reduce worker fatigue.
Another important consideration was the ability to automate irrigation events. Targeted irrigation is used to keep moisture levels at appropriate levels for vegetative growth and fruiting but also as a method to cool the root zone when soil temperatures exceeded 77 °F.
An example of the variables being monitored by the automated irrigation system is shown here. stawberry-data_20181
A picture of an elevated strawberry system misting plants in July is shown here. 2019-02-07-ISBF
Cultivars used in this project include both June-bearing and Ever-bearing varieties so that the system can be evaluated for overall fruit quality and yields as well as season extension capabilities.
Prototype systems were set up at all three farms. During the growing season, it became apparent that design modifications could be made to lower the cost to purchase and install this type of system. With our original considerations in mind regarding the need to control heat build up as much as possible, the system’s design was changed from using “troughs” to “bags”. Both troughs and bags are made of the same breathable material that allows for an evaporative cooling effect. However, the bags are easier to move and do not require as much structural support as the troughs.
No yield or cultivar performance data is reported here. Due to delays in getting the system’s wireless network operational and excessive rains, our field trials were not set up until after the spring crop for all varieties.
Educational & Outreach Activities
None to date.
This grant project is still in progress. No lessons learned to date.
none to date
none to date