Progress report for FNC21-1285
My husband Ray and I purchased 19.5 acres on December 3rd, 2019. Up to this fall, the 15 acres of tillable ground has been in corn with a CSR2 in the mid 70s. We plan to seed down most of our acres in 2021 for hay, except the area used for the variety trial. While our farm is in the early stages of production, we have been involved in sustainable agriculture for many years. My husband, Ray, has his undergraduate degree from Iowa State University in Agronomy and a Master’s degree in Horticulture. He is currently employed as a Food Systems Coordinator with Iowa State University Extension of Dubuque County for 3.5 years. Ray has been researching and experimenting on his own family dairy farm for an economically viable option for raising crops ever since he enrolled in the 4H program. Once Ray and I met, we decided that a u-pick strawberry farm would be the best fit for us. I was raised on an acreage where we raised our own beef, poultry and also kept horses that we used to explore natural areas in the Midwest. I wanted to pursue a career where I could make a difference for people and the natural areas which I had come to value. For the last six years I have been employed by the Natural Resource Conservation Service as a Soil Conservation Technician where I help design and implement conservation practices for local producers.
As beginning farmers, my husband, Ray, and I have not found adequate information evaluating new strawberry varieties replacing older more established varieties available from commercial nurseries. Trials for strawberry varieties in Iowa have not been completed by Iowa State University since 2011. Understanding how new varieties perform in our area, enables growers to choose varieties that provide the best return for their investment. This makes for more efficiently produced crops by reducing inputs and maximizing profit for Iowa growers. With most of Iowa’s small-scale growers located in rural areas, increasing profitability of a specialty crop can help with reviving and diversifying our rural economies which encourages economic sustainability. Better variety placement can also lead to less resources being used to produce the berry crop making the production of strawberries in Iowa more efficient. This strawberry cultivar trial will not only benefit growers in Iowa but also benefit growers in the tri-state area of Illinois and Wisconsin for both home and commercial use since our farm is only 45 miles from both states.
- We will evaluate the varieties based on yield, winter hardiness, berry firmness, date of bloom, date of fruiting, flavor, prevalent diseases, and prevalent insects. (<23 months)
- Share preliminary findings through field day in first year of fruiting. (<23 months)
- Release initial report and a YouTube video discussing our first fruiting season (<23 months) and final report documenting results from two fruiting seasons. (>23 months)
- This project will enable us as well as other berry producers to build an economically sustainable and efficient production model. (>23 months)
In late April or as soon as conditions will allow, Ray and I will prepare a planting site on our farm and amend the soil as needed based on a soil test. Nine varieties of strawberry crowns will be planted in the plot shortly after soil preparation in the pattern described in the attached plot map. Varieties include, ‘Flavorfest’, ‘Archer’, ‘Keepsake’, ‘Yambu’, ‘Dickens’, ‘Mayflower’, ‘AC Wendy’ with two check varieties named ‘Jewel’ and “Clancy’. New Variety Strawberry Trial Plot Map
Once planted, strawberry crowns will be mechanically weeded with a spinning carousel weeder, row crop cultivator, and hand hoe. Water will be provided via a traveling sprinkler to ensure proper moisture. In the fall of 2021, straw will be applied for winter protection to the crowns in late November. In spring of 2022 we will remove the straw when crowns break dormancy. In May we will rate the strawberry crowns for overwintering ability. As strawberries are picked, they will be kept separate by plot and evaluated by weight, firmness, and taste. Preliminary plot information will be presented in a field day in June 2022 raising awareness for the variety trial publication to be released in late October 2022. Strawberries will also be available at the field day for scoring if attendees would like to participate in rating the berries on taste and appeal. Ray and I plan to perform the majority of tasks involved with the exception of activities needing lots of help in one day. This would include days like planting, picking, fall mulching and help with set up for the berry field day. Yield data will be statistically analyzed to detect actual differences in yield information in the final publication.
Data for our berries will not be available until July 2022 at the earliest.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The first year of our project focused on production and was spent setting up the variety trial and maintaining. The bulk of outreach and education will take place in 2022 via a field day at our farm and the release of a YouTube video discussing our project results to date.
My husband, Ray, and myself have learned a great deal after our first year planting, weeding and maintaining our strawberry transplants. Our greatest challenges were brought on by the early season droughty conditions and cramped row spacing that made hand weeding necessary. The first challenge started shortly after planting on May 24th. With no rain and higher than normal spring temperatures we soon realized that irrigation would be needed to get the transplants off to a good start. We started by irrigating twice a week and then increased our rate due to the progressively dry conditions. Despite our efforts we noticed within two weeks that we had some crop failure in the southern half of our plot. We quickly reached out to our suppliers and were able to replace all necessary crown with the exception of one cultivar. Upon replanting, we started immediately irrigating every day and noticed that our efforts were much improved. However, regular moisture proved to incur its own challenges. The weed seedlings started coming in and the regular moisture made it challenging to drive our JD 6120 and our Willsie HydroWeeder through the rows without experiencing compaction. We also experienced lack of weed control from soil that had crusted and proved difficult to break apart. Ultimately we found hand weeding to be the most effective but it increased our management time substantially.