Improving the Profitability - Adaptation of the High-Density Strawberry Production System for the Northeast

Final Report for LNE95-057

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1995: $96,204.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $180,412.00
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Joseph Fiola
Rutgers University, Rutgers Fruit Research and Education Center
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Project Information

Summary:

The strawberry “plasticulture� production system for the Northeast based on integrated crop management techniques with improved profitability and decreased pesticide dependence. The late-summer planting system includes raised beds, black plastic mulch, and trickle irrigation, with plants spaced in staggered double rows. Establishment costs are higher, but the value of the early high quality crop is higher and labor costs are reduced. The objectives were optimize the system through research into plant types, planting dates, disease resistant variety testing, organic nutrition, and double cropping alternatives.

Earlier planting date was comparable or preferable for yield of all treatments, which is critical for establishment in diverse environments. The plant type experiments revealed types that provide a significant buffer for late planting opportunities in northern locations. Floating row covers (FRC) applied in mid-October also compensated for late plug planting. Transplant “plugsâ€? planted in late August/early September were the standard for the system, offering the most consistent results, however variety choices were limited. Eastern adapted cultivars and advanced breeding selections were high yielding, large fruited, and offered season extension over the variety standard ‘Chandler’. Excellent pest resistant of the clones eliminated the need for all fungicides except for Botrytis. Organic N nutrition was comparable or superior to conventional inorganic N. There were no differences in production attributed to application timing, therefore all organic N can be preplant incorporated, eliminating fertigation cost, effort, and equipment.

Plasticulture strawberry plantings were minimally renovated and maintained for a second cropping season; one commercial planting was even successfully renovated for a third fruiting season. Many of the eastern varieties were superior in performance to ‘Chandler’. Vegetable double cropping after strawberry harvest was also profitable. Stake tomatoes, bell peppers, melons, pumpkins, and zucchini squash were successfully produced using the original inputs.

As for profitability of the system, if a commercial grower harvests 15,000 lbs/A, sells the fruit for $2.00/lb, with $13,362 expenses (including harvest), the net is about $16,638/A. An average matted-row scenario of 10,000 lbs/A at $1.33 with $7,811 in expenses equals $5,489/A net. Plasticulture profitability is 300% higher. This profitability makes strawberry plasticulture one of the most profitable crops on a per acre basis.

The flexibility of plant types, planting dates, varieties, N nutrition, second year strawberry harvest and vegetable double cropping has improved the profitability of the system and allowed it to move into “newâ€? more northern locations. R&D information has been disseminated through a variety of mediums including: 26 meetings reaching over 2400 growers, book chapters, fact sheets, R&D reports, and newsletters. This R&D earned the project coordinator a second place for the National Crop Production Award bestowed by Novartis and NACAA. Grower adoption has increased rapidly in the region, with about 200 growers in the region currently utilizing the system, up from about 20 in the early 1990’s.

Project Objectives:

I. Optimize an integrated strawberry production system, involving genetic, cultural, and environmental aspects, with improved profitability and decreased pesticide dependence.

1. Investigate the influence of location, planting date, plant type, and floating row covers (FRC) on earliness, productivity, quality, and profitability.

2. Compare selections (NJUS and MDUS Strawberry Breeding Programs) and eastern adapted cultivars to ‘Chandler’ for pest resistance, earliness, productivity, and quality.

3. Study the efficacy of poultry manure and chicken parts compost as primary nutrient source, and/or replacement for fumigation.

4. Study double-cropping strategies with vegetables and/or renovation practices for maintaining the strawberry planting for a second production year.

II. Extend research and development information on the system to encourage rapid commercial adoption.

1. Present details of system and results at local, statewide, regional, and national small fruit and vegetable meetings; conduct field days and on-farm twilight meeting to discuss commercial demonstrations.

2. Write up details of system and results into fact sheets, newsletters, and a chapter in the NRAES Strawberry Production Guide.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Joseph A. Fiola
  • Robert Rouse

Research

Materials and methods:

The plasticulture system originated in the moderate California climate and has allowed close to year-round production in the state. From the 1980’s through early 90’s it has become the system of choice in the Southeast, completely taking over Florida and over 1000 acres in North Carolina. University R&D moved the system into the prime location eastern shore of Maryland and Virginia as well as Southeastern coastal New Jersey. The system has thrived where the soils are light and the climate is moderated by large bodies of water with regard to low winter temperatures and late-spring/early fall frosts.

Research and commercial locations were chosen in the prime locations to optimize the profitability of the system and also in the more limiting areas to expand the adaptation of the system. Within the two areas choices were made as to the production (vegetables on plastic) and marketing (wholesale, direct retail, PYO) practices. Rutgers R&D was conducted at three diverse University R&E Centers. The Bridgeton R&E Center is close to the optimal locations in Southeastern NJ. Soils are light and the climate is supportive of the system. The majority of the research was conducted at the Fruit R&E Center in Cream Ridge in central NJ were the soils are light to medium but the climate is more limiting. The third NJ location is in the Northwest part of the state at the Snyder R&E Center for Sustainable Ag. The soils are heavier there and first hard fall frosts come earlier. The University of Maryland R&D was conducted on the Wye R&E Center on the eastern shore region of the state. This area is comparable to Southeastern NJ with sandy soils and a water moderated climate.

The commercial cooperator locations ranged from optimal through very limiting. Dietrich Farms and Porch Fruit and Vegetable Farm are in Pedricktown, NJ, the best locations in the state. The soils are light, hard frosts do not occur until well into November, winter low temperatures are moderate, and the probability of late spring frost is low. These locations were used for planting date, variety, and renovation studies. Hastings Organic Fruit/Vegetable Farm and Pape Organic Fruit/Vegetable Farm, Mardela Springs, MD, as well as Maddox Organic Fruit/Vegetable Farm, Hebron, Maryland are in eastern coastal Maryland. Soils are sandy and the climate is conducive; they are also very close to chicken compost sources on the shore.

Donio Farms Inc. (Hammonton, NJ) and Walker Brothers/Jersey Asparagus Farms (Newfield, NJ) are in Central South Jersey with slightly heavier soils and no climate moderation by water. Donio Farms is associated with a very large wholesale packing house and a broad marketing strategy. Walker Brothers does direct road side marketing and is also currently expanding its nursery business to support the plasticulture system. These location were best suited for variety trials and planting date studies. Moving north, Springdale Farms is the last surviving farm in Cherry Hill, NJ. It has medium-heavy soils, earlier fall frosts, but provides a has direct retail and PYO marketing. Plant type studies were conducted here. Rodichok Farms (Tower City, PA) in Central Pennsylvania was a very difficult location for system with early fall frosts, cold winter temperatures and high late spring frost risk. This was a prime spot for the renovation research, as first year plant development and yield tended to be limited.

Research results and discussion:

General Background. As the agricultural value of land in the Northeast continues to lose the battle against the real estate development value of the land, the agribusiness industry is turning to high efficiency production systems which allow maximum profitability from the land. Increasing the profitability and geographic adaptability of the high-density strawberry production system was the major objective of this study.

The Eastern United States has traditionally grown strawberries in matted rows, but there is considerable interest in adapting the high density annual systems utilized in Florida and North Carolina. The late-summer planting system includes raised beds, black plastic mulch, and trickle irrigation, with plants spaced in staggered double rows. Establishment costs are higher, but the value of the early high quality crop is higher. Labor costs are reduced as there is no setting of daughter plants or hand weeding, and the fruit is more easily and efficiently harvested from the beds. Late-summer planting also affords relief from the heat, drought, weed and disease pressure of mid-summer. The plastic protects against fruit diseases and eliminates herbicide use.

Objective I-1. Currently the best option for the Northeast is the use of transplant “plugs” which are propagated form actively growing runner tips. These can be purchased directly, but are costly, at about $130.00/1000. A “by-product” of the digging of fresh-dug plants are the multiple crowned “mother plants” (MCF). Utilizing MCF plants in production plots would mean starting with a larger plant which would require less growing time to achieve optimal branch crown number before flower bud initiation in the fall.

Results. Plant type – Two years of investigation revealed that the fresh multiple crown mother plants were high yielding and were superior to conventional plugs when planted after the recommended planting dates. In a commercial trial in South Jersey, plants established and yielded well, even when planted in late-October (6 weeks later than recommended for plugs). The grower was satisfied to have a crop after his plugs failed, and the nursery was happy to sell plants which would normally be discarded. This plant type can provide a significant buffer for late planting opportunities in northern locations. Planting date – Earlier planting date was comparable or preferable for yield of all treatments; fruit size was unaffected. This finding allows more flexibility with planting and establishment in diverse environments. MCF plants can still have good yields even when planted up to 6 weeks later than recommended for plugs. FRC applied in October can increase yield and compensate for late plug planting.

Objective I-2. A critical issue facing strawberry growers involves the dependence of current strawberry production on agricultural chemicals for pest control. This production system is based on ICM cultural and pest management principals, and the core of ICM is the utilization of pest resistant varieties. Utilizing new varieties and breeding advanced selections from breeding programs in the region, one can take advantage of the specific adaptation and genetic resistances to diseases which are critical in the Northeast.

Results. Many of the eastern cultivars performed well in the plasticulture system. Eastern cultivars and advanced breeding selections were high yielding, large fruited, pest resistant, and offered season extension over the variety standard ‘Chandler‘. Disease resistant of the selections was excellent, eliminating the need for all fungicides except for bloom sprays for Botrytis. Ability to utilize traditional eastern varieties has made the system more attractive to growers in the Northeast since the variety name recognition is still there for the consumer, especially in PYO operations. Based on a combination of superior yield and fruit weight, the varieties ‘Allstar’, ‘Noreaster’, ‘Seneca’, ‘Earliglow’, and ‘Latestar’ are now being commercially recommended and planted in the system. ‘Jewel’, ‘Marmolada’, ‘Mesabe’, and ‘Cavendish’ also performed well and are being trialed in specific areas. The demand for these varieties has fostered the development of a new nursery industry in the region.

Advanced selections from the NJUS and MDUS breeding programs also performed well. The selections NJ8826-11, B27, B28, and MDUS5334 had good yields and fruit weights, and can fill in early and late season demands. Superior early production of advanced selection NJ8826-11 has prompted variety release and is patent pending. Again, disease resistant of the selections was excellent, eliminating the need for all fungicides except for Botrytis.

Objective I-3. Another issue facing strawberry growers involves the contamination of ground water supplies from over-use of synthetic nitrogen (N) fertilizers. The strawberry plasticulture system is N efficient in threes ways: Plastic mulch reduces leaching of nutrients; fall applied organic N will also supply spring N needs since the N is a slow release form which will resist winter leaching; strawberries benefit from additions of organic matter.

Results. Fertilizer type – The yield of organic N nutrition treatments was comparable or superior to conventional inorganic N plots. Plant Tone, Composted poultry parts, poultry manure, and corn gluten meal were all superior to conventional 10-10-10, therefore organic sources of nitrogen can be used effectively in this system.
Preplant Incorporated or PPI/Fertigate – There were no differences in yield, primary, or average fruit weights with regard to N application timing, 90 lb. N preplant incorporated vs 60 lb. N preplant/30 lb. N spring fertigation. Results show that with organic N in a plasticulture system, all N can be preplant incorporated, eliminating the need for the increased cost, effort, and equipment necessary for spring fertigation.

Objective I-4. The high productivity of this production system coupled with the early harvest allow a high return for inputs, as well as increased opportunities for rotation and “double-cropping�. Two alternative components are available for maximizing the profitability of the system: “Carryover beds� for second year strawberry fruiting and/or double cropping with vegetable crops after the first or second strawberry harvest. Planting vegetables directly into the same beds allows maximum utilization of the inputs of bed preparation, plastic, and fertilizer.

Results. Over the years of this study, ‘Chandler’ second year beds ranged from about 60% to 110% of first year beds. Average fruit weight was typically down about 20-30% over first year beds, due to competition in the dense second year beds. The carry-over beds typically start fruiting about one week later. There were no differences in the organic versus conventional carry-over beds. The eastern varieties were typically superior to ‘Chandler’ in second year plots, due to superior disease resistance. In general, when yields of first year beds are high, lower yields and smaller fruit are expected for the second year harvest; when yields of first year beds are low, high yields and good fruit size are obtained in the carryover beds. In practice, commercial growers have used carry-over beds for P.Y.O. and to wholesale “a less expensive alternativeâ€? to the fruit from the first year beds. A significant portion of the experienced growers are now increasing profitability by maintaining the plantings for a second harvest season.

The success of vegetable double cropping in 1995 through 1998 with tomatoes, peppers, melons, pumpkins, zucchini, or spaghetti squash depended on the specific growing season during and after strawberry harvest. In the warm seasons when strawberry harvest was early, high yield of tomatoes, peppers and pumpkins were obtained. In the cooler seasons when strawberries were late, the “short� season zucchini squash was the best choice. When strawberry harvest is early, all vegetable options are open to the grower; when strawberry harvest is later however, the grower is best served by the short seed-to-harvest crops. Three years of data demonstrate the efficient input utilization and improved profitability by vegetable double cropping and second year strawberry harvest.

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

Rapid commercial trial and adoption of this system was the ultimate goal of the project. The project included applied research and demonstration at University and commercial farms, thereby being conducive to a wide range of extension outreach.

The program continues to attract wide regional and national interest. Regional/statewide presentations on the system during the period include Annual Winter Growers Meetings in Hershey, PA (>200 participants annually), Toledo, OH (>150 participants annually), Atlantic City, NJ, Dover, DE (>100 participants annually), and Lancaster, PA (>120 participants annually). NESARE Project Cooperators (Fiola and Rouse) were featured at The 1997 Southeastern Strawberry Expo (over 250 participants), in Raleigh, North Carolina, in a session geared specifically for “colder climate” plasticulture. Rouse will be featured again in the 1998 Expo for an update on the research. The strawberry session of the annual NJ Vegetable Growers Conference in Atlantic City (>120 participants annually) was expanded to a half-day session specifically dedicated to the plasticulture strawberry system due to the demand for information of the system in the region. Fiola was featured at the annual Tri-State (PA, MD, NJ) Horticulture Meetings in Hershey, PA, and is again invited for January 1999. The wide regional interest in information about the system has promoted an invitation by the North American Strawberry Growers Association (NASGA) to present results of the cultural system and variety development at their NASGA Annual Meeting (>250 participants annually) in Orlando, Florida, in February, 1999. Presentations have also been made at many regional in-state programs within NJ, MD, PA, and DE.

Field days specifically dedicated to the plasticulture were held on the research farms in Cream Ridge, NJ (96,97,98), Pittstown, NJ (96,97,98), Centerton, NJ (96,97), and Wye, MD (96,97,98). There were also special annual “demonstration twilight” meeting held on grower sites, including Walker Brothers Farms in Newfield, NJ (96,97), Donio Farms in Hammonton, NJ (98), and Radichoch Farms in Tower City, PA (97,98).

A feature (invited) article entitle “Cool Climate Strawberries Fare Well on Plastic” (written by Fiola) was published in the American Fruit Grower. A specific article, highlighting the pest management benefits of plasticulture production was written for the IPM Newsletter. An “Update on the strawberry plasticulture system” was printed in the Horticultural News. Proceedings, highlighting the R&E aspects of the project, were prepared for the above mentioned annual grower meetings. A Small Fruit Technology Newsletter is being prepared which will contain the final summary of this R&D.

Cooperative Extension Fact Sheets were developed (and updated) with descriptions and discussion of the various components of the system, including system basics, nursery lists for plants, fresh plant establishment, and frost protection. Newsletters currently published by cooperating Specialists and Agents contained updates on developments of the project. A section was prepared for the production systems chapter for the new NRAES Strawberry Production Guide which was published early in 1998. The Guide was recently awarded a blue ribbon in the 1998 ASAE Educational Aids Competition, judged to be outstanding in originality and effectiveness.

Patent Disclosure and Application submitted:

Jelenkovic, G. and J.A. Fiola. ‘NJ8826-11 Strawberry.‘

Abstracts:

Proper plant type, planting date, and double-cropping optimize profitability in a strawberry plasticulture system. The County Agent 9:6

Renovation of annual strawberries on plastic. The County Agent 9:5.

Critical Factors to optimize productivity in strawberry plasticulture. The County Agent. 8(2):

Professional Proceedings/Reports:

Strawberry plasticulture and vegetable double cropping. National Agricultural Plastics Annual Conference, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Influence of spring fertigation on annual strawberry production on plastic. Proceedings of National Agricultural Plastics Annual Conference, Atlantic City, New Jersey.

NEC-92 Small Fruit Regional Research and Extension Committee, Geneva, New York.

NCR-22 Small Fruit and Viticulture Regional Committee, Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Trade Publications:

Cool Climate Strawberries Fare Well on Plastic. American Fruit Grower 117(5):41-42.

Update on the strawberry plasticulture system. Hort. News 77(4):10-14.

Commercial Proceedings – International, National, Regional:

Strawberry plasticulture: Varieties and planting dates. Proceedings of the NJVG Annual Conference. Atlantic City, NJ.

Strawberry plasticulture considerations for colder climates. and Strawberry cultivar selection. Proceedings of the Southeast Strawberry Expo, Raleigh, North Carolina. pps. 11-13; 33-36.

Update on the Strawberry Plasticulture System. Proceedings of the 1997 Annual Tri-State Horticulture Meetings. Hershey, Pennsylvania. pps. 64-66, 71-73.

Strawberry plasticulture: Plant types and organic nutrition. Proceedings of the New Jersey Vegetables Growers Annual Conference. Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Frost control for strawberry plasticulture. Proceedings of the Southeast Strawberry Expo, Raleigh, North Carolina. pps. 43-50.

The ABC s of strawberry plasticulture. Proceedings of the Southeast Strawberry Expo, Raleigh, North Carolina. pps. 5-8.

Strawberry Plasticulture Research for the North central Region. Proceedings of the 1996 Wisconsin Fruit and Vegetables Growers Annual Conference. Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Will Strawberry Plasticulture Work in Upstate New York? Proceedings of the 1996 New York Horticultural Society Annual Conference. Rochester, New York.

Regional Commercial Production Guide
Strawberry Production Systems. In: Strawberry Production Guide. Ed. M. Pritts and D. Handley. NRAES.

Fact Sheets/Production Guides:

“New Jersey Vegetable Production Manual.” Strawberry horticultural recommendations. 5pps.

“A High-Productivity Strawberry Production System for New Jersey.” Rutgers Cooperative Extension FS784. 4pps.

Project Outcomes

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

The plasticulture system is based on integrated crop management (ICM) practices which avoid and reduce disease and insect pressure. Late summer planting affords relief from the heat, drought, weed and disease pressure of mid-summer. The system decreases the dependency on chemical pesticides by maintaining a microclimate which is not conducive to pest development, and by physically excluding pests from the susceptible plant material.

Black plastic mulch eliminates the need for herbicides and fumigation against weeds, since it blocks the light needed for weed seed germination and development. It also prevents the fruit from contacting the soil and reduces soil splashing onto the fruit, decreasing Botrytis fruit rot and leather rot. The raised bed allows greater air movement through the vegetative canopy, allowing for quicker drying of the dew and rainfall, thereby avoiding disease promoting conditions on leaves and fruit. The beds also allow the soil to drain more efficiently, reducing or eliminating root diseases such as red stele and black root rot.

Plants are only in the field for a short period of time with this system, thereby avoiding many pest problems. Older plantings are more likely to encounter viral infections as they age, simply due to the fact that they have more chances to be exposed to vectors such as aphids and nematodes. Root weevils are eliminated as a pest since plants are removed immediately following harvest, thus removing their food source from the field. The annual system greatly reduces sap beetle problems which are more prevalent in held over matted-row beds. Plant trash is greatly reduced as leaves are much younger, greatly decreasing the inoculum source for Botrytis. Leaf spot cover sprays in the fall are eliminated as the growth is much younger and has not been exposed to inoculum during the heat of the summer.

Floating row covers (FRC) are an integral part of plasticulture, increasing flower bud initiation in the fall, providing winter and frost/freeze protection, and promoting earlier fruiting. For ICM, FRC also serve in avoiding insect infestations, by physically excluding pests, such as tarnished plant bug. Since the FRC promote an earlier crop, they also serve to accelerate plant development past the susceptible stage before the pest emerges, as with the strawberry clipper. The degree of effectiveness is dependent on over-wintering habits of particular insect species, as well as environmental conditions, especially in the growing season previous to the harvest season.

At the core of ICM principal is the utilization of an innate genetic resistance to pests as the most efficient means of control. The NJAES and other Eastern Breeding Programs have selections with excellent fruit flavor and size for fresh market production in the system. The genetic disease resistances and general adaptation of these selections varieties allows them to be grown with fewer fungicides. The selections have resistance to Red Stele and Verticillium wilt, therefore fungicide sprays for these diseases have been eliminated.

Greater production on small acreage allows strawberries to be cropped as an annual, making the most efficient use of agricultural land; second year cropping and vegetable double-cropping offer options to further increase profitability. This system has sparked renewed interest in strawberry production in New Jersey and the Northeast.

Economic Analysis

The plasticulture strawberry production system has shown consistently high commercial profitability in Southern New Jersey. The system costs more up-front and overall than the traditional matted-row system, however, bottom-line profitability has been higher. Plasticulture establishment inputs range from $4-6000/A while matted-row costs are typically $2,500-4,500/A (see supplements for more detail). Commercial yields are ranging from 10-22,000 lbs/A for plasticulture (4-12,000 lbs/A for matted-row). In addition, the excellent fruit size, and very high quality plasticulture fruit commands a higher price. The plasticulture berries are being sold for $1.75 to $3.75/quart; on the average this is 25-40% higher than matted row berries. If a commercial grower harvests 15,000 lbs/A, sells the fruit for $2.00/lb, with $13,362 expenses (including harvest), the net is about $16,638/A. An average matted-row scenario of 10,000 lbs/A at $1.33 with $7,811 in expenses equals $5,489/A net (see detailed economic summary in attached supplements). Plasticulture profitability is 300% higher, and that is conservatively assuming the same selling price and labor costs, and not including the profits from vegetable double cropping. This profitability makes strawberry plasticulture one of the most profitable crops on a per acre basis.

A few commercial growers have worked their fruit into a large commercial chain in the area where they are successfully competing with California berries due to the superior quality. The value of the fruit has been even higher in the “borderline� locations, and that has helped to more rapidly spread the system to those areas. There are also a few organic in NJ and MD who are using the plasticulture system and marketing the fruit for between $2.00 to $3.75/pint. The experiments conducted through this grant have greatly helped to increase profitability and broaden the adaptation of the system.

Farmer Adoption

The second level of evaluation is a measurement of commercial adoption and/or expansion of the system, including the most conducive production areas and the “marginal” sites. Commercial acreage in the optimal areas of South Jersey has risen to over 60 acres (up from 2 in 1990). Growers who are adopting the system state that the reason they are prefer the plasticulture to the matted-row is the advantages in weed management and the decreased need for harvest labor. A few commercial growers have worked their fruit into a large commercial chain in the area. They are successfully competing with California berries due to the superior quality. There are also a few organic in NJ and MD who are using the plasticulture system and marketing the fruit for between $2.00 to $3.75/pint.

The growth of the system in the region has simultaneously induced the beginnings a new nursery industry to support the system. Walker Brothers/Jersey Asparagus Farms (WBJAF) of Newfield, NJ, cooperators in production research, and Davon Crest Farms (DCF) in Hurlock, MD, are now commercial nurseries for tips and plugs specifically for the plasticulture system. Both are committed to increasing production, including larger numbers of plants and greater selection of varieties.

We can conservatively track the expanding commercial adoption of the system throughout the Northeast region. WBJAF sold over 1 million tips and plugs to 109 commercial growers in 1997, and over 1.1 million tips and plugs to 138 commercial growers in 1998. Davon Crest Farms sold about 575,000 plugs to 30 growers in 1997 and 575,000 again to 35 commercial growers in 1998. That is over 170 growers (about 100 acres) in 1998 from these two nurseries alone, and that does not include the significant number of growers who are using dormants. Both WBJAF and DCF noted that in 1998 many of the experienced growers were keeping the planting for a second year and that there were also many new growers trying the system for the first time. Scott Walker from WBJAF estimates he could have sold 50-75,000 more if he had the material. Many growers called very late trying to purchase plugs. He projects a potential 20% increase in plug sales annually, and that the demand for eastern varieties will increase dramatically in the future.

There were also a significant number of acres established with dormant plants. Nourse Farms (Wately, MA), the largest strawberry plant nursery in the Northeast, has converted all of their 12 acres of commercial fruit production to plasticulture. Strawberry Tyme Nursery in Simcoe, Ontario has 8 acres of commercial plasticulture fruit production based on information obtained from cooperators on this program. There are probably about another 25 acres of dormant plant plasticulture in the region. This shows a rapid increase in interest in the system, especially in the more marginal areas.

Denis Donio, owner of Donio Farms and president of the Rutgers University Board of Managers was quoted as saying “This is one of the best projects Rutgers has ever conducted to help NJ growers. This system is highly efficient and profitable. I believe the acreage in South Jersey will continue to grow and revitalize New Jersey as a significant quality strawberry producing area.�

Areas needing additional study

The findings of this project has opened the door to new and exciting opportunities to improve productivity and decrease costs:

Dormant plants planted in mid summer – Preliminary results with dormant plants ($90/1000 plants) instead of plug plants ($140/1000 plants) have been promising. This alternative is less expensive to establish and reduces the risk in colder locations. It also immediately allows utilization of the eastern varieties which have performed very well in the system, have wide consumer acceptance in the region, and are the cornerstone of the current commercial nursery industry in the Northeast.

Protected culture with FRC to extend the season. Preliminary studies with hoops over the beds with FRC and or plastic offers multiple advantages: Uniform plant development and fruiting; extension of the flower bud initiation period in the fall; added protection from the adverse winter environment; greater protection against frost/freeze damage; season extension through earlier fruiting when the prices are the best.

Renovation practices for carry-over beds – As more commercial growers are maintaining planting for a second fruiting season, research is needed for determining the best renovation practices, including mowing, crown thinning, fertilization, and disease monitoring/control.

Variety development – Development of varieties which are regionally adapted and have the vegetative and reproductive traits that are optimal for the production in the system is the next step to increase production efficiency. Traits are available to be incorporated that could make the system completely pesticide free. A new cooperative breeding program has been established between Rutgers University and the University of Maryland to breed strawberry varieties specifically for the system.

Greenhouse tip production – Production of tips for plugs in the greenhouse would allow to better control of production, allowing earlier planting for northern locations, and unlimited choices of varieties. It also establishes a “newâ€? nursery industry within the Northeast region which is integrated with the advance of the production system in the region. Preliminary research to integrate tip-production into the established Maryland Nursery Certified Virus Testing Program is already in progress.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.