This strawberry project is a collaborative effort with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension (TAMU), the University of Arkansas (UA), Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU), and the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (TOFGA). This is the second year of the 3-year project. The objective of the project is to evaluate commercially-available biocontrol products for efficacy, yield and cost in strawberries. Our main target audience is the limited-resource, small-acreage farmers in the mid-south. We have conducted and/or have planned workshops, field tours and conferences where this SARE project and its results are discussed.
The project is an ongoing research trial. Year 1 data was not complete until June 2017. Four growers participated in Year 1, (three in Texas, one in Arkansas and the same number is participating in Year 2. We are currently in mid-season of Year 2 with trials initiated in October 2017. Strawberry harvesting began at all locations in March 2018. For Year 2, project collaborators held two workshops, sixteen combined presentations and five field days since April 2017. Presentations were given at nine conferences and seven grower meetings. A SARE Strawberry Workshop was held at Hope, Arkansas in March 2017 with plans for one in Sep/Oct of 2018 in Texas. The SARE project was presented at the annual Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Conference on Feb 2, 2018. Finally, the project was presented twice on West Texas Ag radio (AM950- Lubbock) and twice on Fox34 News (Lubbock) with an exposure of approximately 180,750 public stakeholders.
The results of the first year project are still being analyzed and in preparation for publication. Two growers have had issues including one not following the protocol properly and another having a crop failure. Growers in Year 2 are still applying treatments.
The overall objective of the project is to enhance the economic and environmental sustainability of limited-resource farmers who grow organic strawberries through sustainable practices in high/low tunnels or in open field production. There are five sub-objectives include working collaboratively with three or more limited-resource organic strawberry growers in Texas and Arkansas, and conduct research trials at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Prairie View A&M University and the University of Arkansas.
Our objectives are to:
(1) Select biocontrol products and evaluate their efficacy on strawberries grown in high tunnels or under low tunnel protective covers for disease and insect control in the mid-South;
(2) Evaluate the costs of application using the selected biocontrol products and determine their cost-effectiveness in organic strawberries. Products must be economical to be sustainable;
(3) Provide training opportunities for our growers, Extension agents, and crop consultants with on-farm demonstration trials, field days and the opportunity to share results and thoughts on the products through annual workshops and conferences;
(4) When trials are completed annually, we will analyze and summarize all the collected data to report at our planned events, or at regional and national scientific horticulture meetings through submitted abstracts or peer-review publications; and
(5) Upon completion of the 3-year project we will provide our limited resource farmers and other region-wide stakeholders with up-to-date scientifically-researched recommendations on current biocontrol products and finalize the project by preparing and publishing a Biocontrol Guide for Strawberries which will be made available online through our university bookstores.
Project collaborators from all institutions held educational programs including two workshops, sixteen presentations and five field days since April 2017. Presentations were given at nine conferences including national, regional and local meetings and seven grower meetings. A SARE Strawberry Workshop was held at Hope, Arkansas in March 2017 with plans for one in Sep/Oct of 2018 in Texas. Also, a planned grower meeting in Poteet, TX for August 2018 and one in Prairie View, TX in March 2018. Our field days include hands-on approach with actual visits into the field trials as well as grower’s fields. We have also coordinated our efforts with several biocontrol companies. The SARE project was presented at the annual Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Conference on Feb 2, 2018. Finally, the project was presented twice on West Texas Ag radio (AM950- Lubbock) and twice on Fox34 News (Lubbock) with an exposure of approximately 180,750 public stakeholders.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Our project collaborators in both Texas and Arkansas held two workshops (Strawberry Workshop in Hope, AR) and a Small Farm and Local Foods Conference in Lubbock, TX. Sixteen combined presentations and five field days were held since April 2017. Presentations were given at nine conferences and seven grower meetings, as well as various field days. A SARE Strawberry Workshop was held at Hope, Arkansas in March 2017 with plans for one in Sep/Oct of 2018 in Texas. This SARE strawberry project was presented at the annual Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Conference on Feb 2, 2018. Finally, the project was presented twice on West Texas Ag radio (AM950- Lubbock) and twice on Fox34 News (Lubbock) with an exposure of approximately 180,750 public stakeholders.
Knowledge: Most growers were not aware of the potential that biocontrol products offered in organic strawberry production. Many did not realize that they had these options and whether they were efficacious and cost effective in organic strawberry production. Most of the farmers are small-acreage growers with limited resources and other limited options, including land and equipment needed for strawberry production. After discussing the products evaluated in the project, as well as some of our research with these growers, most growers understand their potential for use and their modes of actions. The active ingredients of these projects vary including fungi, bacteria, nutrients and plant extracts.
Skills: Some growers have tried these and other products on their farms with limited success while a few mentioned good success. While most growers would like a silver bullet for controlling diseases and insects, most realize their is no such thing. Additionally, most growers learned that to achieve best control that these products have to be sprayed as preventatives and usually every 7 - 10 days, which ultimately raises the costs. Also, most growers tend to wait until there is a problem before taking action to control pests, and this is generally too late, especially for root diseases. We are trying to change their level of knowledge and skills in that approach.
Attitude: Those growers that have been aware of these products are split into several groups including (1) these products don't work; (2) I've seen these products work, but not on my farm, (3) these products may work but are too expensive to use and too risky, (4) these products work pretty well. Our research will address these issues and the information gathered will be useful for all groups.
Both Arkansas and Texas growers have been impacted by the results of this collaborative project. Small-acreage farmers with limited resources often need targeted research to address their specific needs. Their needs are often significantly different than large commercial operations. This project meets their needs in addressing pest management options in organic strawberries. While the efficacy of these products has not yet been determined, there has been significant interest in what these products can do.
Public stakeholders have been impacted because there is a significant increase in locally-grown strawberries, especially in the Texas High Plains. Local consumers are willing to pay significantly higher prices for local strawberries and indicate that because of their freshness and picking quality, flavor of the berries is greater than those shipped from outside states. When local consumers are willing to pay higher prices, our limited-resource farmers make higher profits and are incentivized to grow more strawberries and other organic produce.
Organic strawberry growers and the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association have been pleased with the collaborative project, as have growers in Arkansas. Previously the organic growers in Texas felt that there was little ongoing research from university faculty. This project has provided a better means of bringing organic growers and Texas A&M faculty together and has created a source of information for organic strawberries as well as using organic commercial products in production.
Significant media attention has been a positive outreach goal for this project, and in Year 2 this has been achieved, especially in Texas. With almost 200,000 contacts since April 2017, outreach has been a great impact of this project.
Strawberry growers, particularly those growing organically have been significantly impacted with this project and research. This project will help to determine whether biocontrol products are effective and worth the cost of purchase. Most growers receive information on these types of products from salespeople, who may or may not sell on commission, but unbiased information is needed. Conducting impartial and replicated research will impact their decision-making process as groewrs plan for pest control in their organic strawberries. so far, the impact has been to let growers see the results of last year’s trial and this year’s continuing research as well.
Thus far the project has generated significant interest and excitement. In both states, there continues to be more growers interested in producing local strawberries and growing them organically and sustainably.
Planting of strawberries was successfully completed in September/October in both Arkansas and Texas. Overall, strawberry growth and development has been good throughout the project. As mentioned previously, a crop failure in the first year occurred with one of our growers in Texas and one grower in Arkansas either didn’t understand the objective or failed to follow it. in the second year, one grower in South Texas continued with the project, but 2 did not. However, we have 2 other growers working on the project in Lubbock.
In the second year, additional products were purchased as-needed from distributors and/or samples were supplied by biocontrol manufacturers interested in evaluations. We continue to receive interest in our project, especially following press releases on field days, conferences, and presentations.
Year 1 data at both Arkansas, Texas A&M and Prairie View A&M has been analyzed and we are currently going through it and preparing a manuscript. At Arkansas, the project is being conducted and evaluated by a Masters student.
Continued interest in organic strawberry and small-farm/high tunnel strawberry production remains high. Wallace continues to receive emails weekly on strawberries as a result of this project. Local, statewide and national attention to the project has created wide exposure. Wallace is currently a collaborator on an SCRI grant proposal with Dr. Curt Rom and about 20 other state collaborators to evaluate strawberry sustainability nationwide. It is hoped that the project will be funded. As a project, our collaborators have held multiple field tours. Presentations have been given at conferences and two workshops. Again, a SARE Strawberry Workshop was held in Hope, AR with about 40 participants in March 2017. The project and some results were presented at the annual Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Conference on February 2, 2018 in Georgetown, TX. A press release was recently distributed by Texas A&M AgriLife Communications to advertise the upcoming SARE Strawberry Field Day in Lubbock on April 21.
Wallace reports that at all three sites we have accomplished the primary research goals at this point in the project, with harvesting and plant data collection continuing.
Overall, the project is very successful for Year 2 and continues to progress well. Wallace is currently developing an outline for the Year 3 biocontrol guide, which will be published by the end of the project.
Strawberries are a very important crop nationwide, and pesticides are heavily used on most of the acreage. With the success of this project, we will be able to determine if organic products can fit into either organic production or as a way to reduce chemical use in conventional strawberries. I would suggest that future studies continue evaluating organic production, especially with alternative production methods and include some aspect of weed control and cover cropping/intercropping in strawberries.