Short cycling as an approach to successful organic strawberry production

Final Report for ONE06-060

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2006: $4,654.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Willie Lantz
University of Maryland Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

The project “Short Cycling an Approach to Successful Organic Strawberry Production” has created interest in producing summer fruit for a high dollar out of season market. The project utilized a European system of planting large plug plants in the spring and producing fruit during that same growing season. The basic idea is to use the plant for one growing season and then remove it from the field. This system avoids the over wintering and frost protection associated with normal strawberry production. This short cycle also helps the producer avoid most of the insect and disease problems of strawberries.

In our project we planted large plug “Everest” day neutral strawberry plants the first of May and harvested fruit from the end of June until the middle of October. The plants produced just over one pound of fruit per plant. The fruit was sold at farmers markets and a farm stand for $3.00 per pint. This was all accomplished using organic protocols for production. We used compost for the nutrient requirements and needed no pesticide applications for insects or diseases. We looked at the use of high tunnels and brassica green manures as other organic production factors.
We held a field day for local producers and have produced a research report in the form of a brochure that was sent to extension agents and specialists throughout the Northeast.

Introduction:

Fresh market fruit and vegetable producers are constantly looking for ways to produce high quality, low input (possibly organic), out-of-season fruit. These factors allow farmers to get a premium for their product and stretch their marketing season. In the Northeast most of the strawberry production is that of short season June bearing varieties. These varieties under the normal production system produce fruit from the first of June to the first of July. The ideal situation would be to be able to produce high quality organically-produced local fruit during the summer months of July and August. Organic strawberry production requires production systems and varieties which have the least amount of stress from diseases and insect pests. A short production cycle would reduce exposure to pests, thus reducing the challenge of getting plants to produce sufficient quantities and quality of fruit 60 days after planting.

Having plants that will fruit in July and August will give farmers that market at tailgate markets the ability to have fresh fruit while the market is open. Traditionally the local tailgate markets have not opened for the season until late June, which is at the tail end of the June bearing strawberry season. This will enable farmers to market their product at a premium to consumers whom are asking for high quality fruit.

Fresh market fruit and vegetable producers are constantly looking for ways to produce high quality, low input (possibly organic), out of season fruit. These factors allow farmers to get a premium for their product and stretch their marketing season. In the northeast most of the strawberry production is that of short season June bearing varieties. These varieties under the normal production system produce fruit from the first of June to the first of July. The ideal situation would be to be able to produce high quality organically-produced local fruit during the summer months of July and August. Organic strawberry production requires production systems and varieties which have the least amount of stress from diseases and insect pests. A short production cycle would reduce exposure to pests, thus reducing, the challenge to getting plants to produce sufficient quantities and quality of fruit 60 days after planting.
Having plants that will fruit in July and August will give farmers that market at tailgate markets the ability to have fresh fruit while the market is open. Traditional the local tailgate markets have not opened for the season until late June which is at the tail end of the June bearing strawberry season. This will enable farmers to market their product at a premium to consumers whom are asking for high quality fruit.

Project Objectives:

The overall objective of this project was to introduce and promote strawberry production in an organic annual system to fresh market fruit and vegetable producers. The project involved planting an organic day neutral strawberry system that would demonstrate the production and management techniques required by this system.

The planting evaluated two European methods of producing summer fruit. The goal was to produce saleable summer fruit that would be equal to European production. Market price potential was also gauged by the producers as they sold fruit throughout the summer at tailgate markets. Organic methods were also evaluated. The use of organic fumigants, compost, and high tunnels were used in this project to increase success with organic production. To promote the system with producers, a field day was hosted and a brochure was created that was mailed to extension specialists throughout the Northeast. Our performance target was to have 10 new producers of annual day neutral strawberry producers.

Objectives and Performance Targets

The overall objective of this project was to introduce and promote strawberry production in an organic annual system to fresh market fruit and vegetable producers. The project involved planting an organic day neutral strawberry system which would demonstrate the production and management techniques required by this system. The planting evaluated two European methods of producing summer fruit. The goal was to produce saleable summer fruit that would be equal to European production. Market price potential was also gauged by the producer as they sold fruit throughout the summer at tailgate markets. Organic methods were also evaluated. The use of organic fumigants, compost, and high tunnels were used in this project to increase success with organic production. To promote the system with producers a field day was hosted and a brochure was created that was mailed to extension specialist throughout the northeast. Our performance target was to have 10 new producers of annual day neutral strawberry producers.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Charles DeBerry
  • Harry Swartz

Research

Materials and methods:

Two European systems were evaluated for possible summer organic production. The first system, 60 Day June Bearing Plants, involved planting a June bearing strawberry variety, ‘Darselect,’ at 10-day intervals starting May 5th and ending on June 30th. The plants were planted in two 27-plant blocks per planting date inside a high tunnel and outside of the high tunnel. The plants were planted in a plasticulture system in a three-row configuration on a 30″ wide raised bed that was on six-foot centers. White plastic was used to cover the beds to reduce soil heating during the summer. The plants were cold dormant bare root plants. Nutrition was provided by 20 tons per acre of compost which provided about 80 pounds of available nitrogen per acre. The plants were irrigated using two drip tapes at the rate of one inch of water per week.

The other system evaluated used an ever-bearing variety, ‘Everest’ that was started in large (32 count) cell trays prior to field planting. Bare root ‘Everest” plants were planted into a soil-less media in the greenhouse in February. These plants were grown in a cool environment (50oF) to promote root growth and maintain short plant leaves. These plants were planted in the field on May 5th.

The planting system was two parallel rows planted at 18″ in the row spacing on a 30″ wide raised bed. The bed was covered with white plastic. Nutrition was provided by 20 tons per acre of compost which provided about 80 pounds of available nitrogen per acre. The plants were irrigated using drip tape at the rate of one inch of water per week.

A total of 16 blocks of 20 plants each were planted. Eight of the blocks were planted inside of a high tunnel and eight blocks were planted outside of the high tunnel. The purpose of the high tunnel was to reduce disease and insect pressure. Of the eight blocks of plants inside and outside of the high tunnel, four of each were treated with an organic brassica fumigant that consisted of broccoli, rape, and mustard. The purpose of the organic fumigant was to reduce the risk of verticillium wilt. The location had been previously planted to a crop of tomatoes.

Two European systems were evaluated for possible summer organic production. The first system, 60 Day June Bearing Plants, involved planting a June bearing strawberry variety, “darselect”, at 10 day intervals starting May 8th and ending on July 20th. The plants were planted in two 27 plant blocks per planting date inside a high tunnel and outside of the high tunnel. The plants were planted in a plasticulture system in a three row configuration on a 30″ wide raised bed which were on six foot centers. White plastic was used to cover the beds to reduce soil heating during the summer. The plants were cold dormant bare root plants. Nutrients were provided by 20 tons per acre of compost which provided about 80 pounds of available nitrogen per acre. The plants were irrigated using two drip tapes at the rate of one inch of water per week.
The other system evaluated utilized an ever-bearing variety, “everest”. These plants were started in large sized (32 count) cell trays prior to field planting. Bare root “everest” plants were planted into a soil-less media in the greenhouse in February. These plants were grown in a cool environment (50oF) to promote root growth and maintain short plant leaves. These plants were planted in the field on May 8th.
The planting system was two parallel rows planted at 18″ in the row spacing on a 30″ raised bed. The bed was covered with white plastic. Nutrients were provided by 20 tons per acre of compost which provided about 80 pounds of available nitrogen per acre. The plants were irrigated using drip tape at the rate of one inch of water per week.
A total of 16 blocks of 20 plants each were planted. 8 of the blocks were planted inside of a high tunnel and 8 blocks were planted outside of the high tunnel. The purpose of the high tunnel was to reduce disease and insect pressure. Of the 8 blocks of plants inside and outside of the high tunnel, 4 of each were treated with an organic brassica fumigant (which consisted of broccoli, rape, and mustard). The brassicas were grown in a greenhouse an then harvested and tilled into the bed the same day the plastic was applied to the bed. The purpose of the organic fumigant was to reduce the risk of verticillium wilt. The location had been previously planted to a crop of tomatoes.

Research results and discussion:

Utilizing the European system of planting 60 day June bearing plants, the first fruit was harvested on June 25th from plants that were planted on May 8th. Therefore fruit was produced 48 days after planting as expected. Fruit production from these plants however was much lower than expected. The average production from all five planting dates was .56 ounces (18g) per plant. Earlier planted plants did perform better than latter planted plants. Plants in the first two planting dates (May 8th and May 31st) produced an average of 1.05 ounces per plant as compared to the last three planting dates (June 15, July 5, July 20) which averaged .23 ounces (6.5g). Production on the four blocks inside of the high tunnel for all five planting dates averaged .81 ounces (23g) per plant as compared to .34 ounces (9.7g) per plant on outside planted plants.
With the system using large plug ever-bearing plants, “Everest”, the first fruit was harvested on June 19th just 42 days after planting. These plants produced an average of 15.97 ounces (453g) per plant. This is only slightly less than average production in Europe. Plant blocks that were treated with the organic fumigant produced 15.97 ounces (453g) per plant compared to 15.98 ounces (453g) per plant in the not treated areas. No plants were lost to any type of disease. Plants planted inside of the tunnel did only slightly better at 16.6 ounces (471g) per plant as compared to outside the tunnel which produced 15.4 ounces (437g) per plant. While production inside the tunnel was only slightly better than outside, we observed that the fruit quality was better at harvest inside the tunnel than outside.
Another accomplishment of the project was that none of the plants were treated for disease or insects. While a few minor diseases and insects were observed, none were at levels that required treatment. This is especially important due to the fact that most fungicides and insecticides have harvest restrictions after applications which would have prevented some of the fruit from being sold.

The DeBerry’s marketed their fruit at local tailgate markets for $3.00 per pint. While this production system is more costly (about $.50/plant for the annual planted day-neutral plug system) the return can be significant.

Utilizing the European system of planting 60 day June bearing plants, the first fruit was harvested on June 25th from plants that were planted on May 8th. Therefore fruit was produced 48 days after planting as expected. Fruit production from these plants however was much lower than expected. The average production from all five planting dates was .56 ounces (18g) per plant. Earlier planted plants did perform better than latter planted plants. Plants in the first two planting dates (May 8th and May 31st) produced an average of 1.05 ounces per plant as compared to the last three planting dates (June 15, July 5, July 20) which averaged .23 ounces (6.5g). Production on the four blocks inside of the high tunnel for all five planting dates averaged .81 ounces (23g) per plant as compared to .34 ounces (9.7g) per plant on outside planted plants.
With the system using large plug ever-bearing plants, “Everest”, the first fruit was harvested on June 19th just 42 days after planting. These plants produced an average of 15.97 ounces (453g) per plant. This is only slightly less than average production in Europe. Plant blocks that were treated with the organic fumigant produced 15.97 ounces (453g) per plant compared to 15.98 ounces (453g) per plant in the not treated areas. No plants were lost to any type of disease. Plants planted inside of the tunnel did only slightly better at 16.6 ounces (471g) per plant as compared to outside the tunnel which produced 15.4 ounces (437g) per plant. While production inside the tunnel was only slightly better than outside, we observed that the fruit quality was better at harvest inside the tunnel than outside.
Another accomplishment of the project was that none of the plants were treated for disease or insects. While a few minor diseases and insects were observed, none were at levels that required treatment. This is especially important due to the fact that most fungicides and insecticides have harvest restrictions after applications which would have prevented some of the fruit from being sold.
The DeBerry’s marketed their fruit at local tailgate markets for $3.00 per pint. While this production system is more costly (about $.50/plant for the annual planted day-neutral plug system) the return can be significant.

Research conclusions:

A field day was held at the end of the season at the project site. At the conclusion of the field day, participants were asked to complete a survey. To the survey question “After attending this field day rank how the field day has helped your understanding of day neutral strawberry production” survey participants indicated an average of a 4.3 on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being designated as very helpful. The attendees at the field day were also asked to indicate if they were interested in obtaining more information on strawberry production. 90% of the survey participants indicated they wanted more information. The participants were also asked if they would be interested in participating in a group order for day neutral strawberries to be planted in an annual system in 2007. A large number indicated they were interested.
Since the type of nursery plant required for annual production can not be ordered from an existing supplier. We made arrangement with a local greenhouse to prepare the plants for plug planting in the spring. 15 people who have order 200+ plants each and a total of nearly 20,000 plants (enough for 1.3 acres). The only day neutral plants planted in 2006 in this system were planted in our two SARE grant projects (about 2,000 plants).

A field day was held at the end of the season at the project site. At the conclusion of the field day, participants were asked to complete a survey. To the survey question “After attending this field day rank how the field day has helped your understanding of day neutral strawberry production” survey participants indicated an average of a 4.3 on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being designated as very helpful. The attendees at the field day were also asked to indicate if they were interested in obtaining more information on strawberry production. 90% of the survey participants indicated they wanted more information. The participants were also asked if they would be interested in participating in a group order for day neutral strawberries to be planted in an annual system in 2007. A large number indicated they were interested.

Since the type of nursery plant required for annual production can not be ordered from an existing supplier. We made arrangement with a local greenhouse to prepare the plants for plug planting in the spring. 15 people who have order 200+ plants each and a total of nearly 20,000 plants (enough for 1.3 acres). The only day neutral plants planted in 2006 in this system were planted in our two SARE grant projects (about 2,000 plants).

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

On September 26, 2006, Garrett County Cooperative Extension in cooperation with Future Harvest CASA sponsored a Strawberry and Raspberry High Tunnel Twilight Tour. One of the two stops on the tour was the DeBerry Farm were participants were able to view the project and ask questions of the farmers and extension personnel. The High Tunnel Tour was attended by 30 individuals. At the end of the tour, participants were asked to complete and evaluation/survey form.

The partners in the SARE grant also prepared a research report in the form of a color brochure. The brochure contains an explanation and results of the project. 600 copies ot the brochure were mailed to 30+ extension agents and specialists in the northeast for distribution to clients that might be interested in organic day neutral strawberry production.

Willie Lantz and Dr. Harry Swartz presented information from the research at the Mid Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention on February 1st in Hershey, PA. Willie Lantz presented research findings at the Northeast Region American Society for Horticultural Science meeting in College Park, MD on January 6th and at the 2007 Western Maryland Regional Fruit Meeting held in Keedysville, MD. Willie also presented a information from the grant at the 6th Annual Rural Enterprises Conference held in Kingwood, WV. Dr. Swartz and Willie Lantz also held a one day Strawberry Short Course on March 27, 2007 at Oakland, MD. The short course was designed to provide growing information to local producers who were planning to start production in 2007. All together over 150 individuals received information through these presentations.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The annual plastic culture system has economic advantages and disadvantages. The major advantages are that there is a greater return for out of season fruit sales. At a conservative yield of one pound of saleable fruit per plant an acre should yield 10,000 pounds of fruit (this assumes 18″ in row spacing and 6′ on center rows of plastic mulch resulting in 10,000 plants per acre). At a price of $3.00 per pound the income per acre would be $30,000. This is comparable to the income reported in the “Mid Atlantic Berry Guide for Commercial Growers” Summary of Estimated Costs and Returns per Acre, 2005, Mature planting for strawberry plasticulture (Table 15, page 48). Another advantage is that over-wintering costs such as row covers would be eliminated ($1,400 per acre). Also costs for fumigation and pesticides would be eliminated at a savings of about ($900/acre). The greatest disadvantage is the fact that the plants must be established each year. The cost to plant one acre is estimated at $5,000/acre. Net return to land, labor, and management per acre is estimated at over $20,000 per acre.

Farmer Adoption

Through efforts made by this grant, 15 farmers have planted 200+ day neutral strawberry plants for a total of over 20,000 plants (1.3 acres). 14 of the 15 are new to strawberry production. While none of these producers are certified organic producers most are following recommendations that are in line with organic production.

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.