Soil Management in Berry Crops as a Model for Management Education

2011 Annual Report for ENE11-120

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2011: $78,534.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Dr. Marvin Pritts
Cornell University

Soil Management in Berry Crops as a Model for Management Education


Commercial berry growers in the Northeast have traditionally made standardized fertilizer applications based on crop age. This practice continues today, some 10 years or more after commercial berry crop guidelines for analysis-based fertilization programs became widely available. Adoption of soil health improving practices has also been slow.

Research demonstrates an analysis-based approach to berry crop nutrition provides increased yields along with better fruit quality and plant health. Use of soil health management practices (i.e. cover cropping) has been shown to reduce weed, nematode and soil-borne disease pressure, along with improving soil tilth, organic matter and nutrient content. Rising costs of products and concerns about environmental impacts of fertilizers make a whole farm approach to berry crop nutrient and soil management highly desirable.

Ag educators, frequently called on to cover multiple commodities and/or information areas outside their field of expertise, often struggle to assist commercial berry growers with berry crop soil and nutrient problems. No single comprehensive resource on this topic is currently available for either educators or growers.

This 2 year project, led by Dr. Marvin Pritts, Small Fruit Horticulturalist and Berry Crop Nutrition Specialist, will provide in-depth berry crop nutrition and soil management training and resources for ag educators and the commercial berry growers they serve. Year one of the project will focus on helping ag educators build berry crop nutrient and soil management expertise through 1) a series of 12 in depth webinars and case study learning modules on the subject and 2) development of internet resources to be used by educators in grower training. Year 2 of the project will focus on assisting ag educators to 3) develop and implement grower training programs and 4) carry out one-on-one consultations with participating growers. Year 2 will also involve educators in monitoring adoption and success of analysis-based berry crop nutrient and soil health management by growers.

A whole farm soil and nutrient management decision tool for commercial berry crops will be developed from existing resources. This tool, along with accompanying ag educator and commercial grower training materials, made available via an internet web site, will provide a “one-stop-shop” resource for ag educators interested in building skills or providing training and/or commercial berry growers interested in improving berry crop soil and nutrient management. Soil and nutrient management principles and practices gained through this project will have application to other crops currently or in the future.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Performance Target (final Milestone):

Fifty educators from across the Northeast will participate in an in depth webinar series to build their expertise in berry crop nutrient and soil management; of those, 15 will develop and deliver outreach programs on the same, reaching 150 Northeastern commercial berry growers who manage a total of 750 acres of berry crops; 50 growers will participate in preliminary soil, nutrient and soil health testing, receive one-on-one assistance with interpretation of results, and implement analysis-based fertilization and soil health management practices on farm. June 2011 – December 2013.


Milestone #1
150 Ag educators from the Northeast are invited to participate in the project through e-mail notifications, mailed brochures, extension calendar postings and professional development opportunity listings. July – August 2011

This milestone was accomplished on 9/1/2011. Seven collaborators enlisted for the project began serving as members of the project team under the direction of project leader Marvin Pritts in August 2011. The project team held its first face-to-face meeting on 17 August. Project performance target, milestones and timeline were reviewed. Plans were finalized for the ag educator webinar series including final program dates and speakers, PR pieces and distribution lists. Webinars were scheduled for the first 2 Fridays of each month at 2 PM EST beginning in October 2011 continuing through March 2012. An introductory webinar was also held on September 30, 2011 to provide a project overview and introduction and also to be used as a vehicle to administer the educator pretest. Team members were enlisted to serve as hosts/moderators for the series of 12 in-depth webinars. Participant demographic surveys and pretests were finalized. Plans were made and assignments given for developing both educator and grower training resources to be used in years 1 and 2 of the project.

Approximately 300 ag educators, consultants and other information multipliers were invited to participate in the project through direct e-mail notifications, newsletters, and internet calendar postings from 8/24/11 through 9/1/11. Groups invited to participate included but were not limited to extension educators, NRCS personnel, ag consultants, nurserymen, university faculty and staff, soil and water conservation personnel, and organic grower organization leaders. Registration deadline reminders were sent to the entire list on 09/23/11.

Partial list of groups canvassed:
NYS Association of Cooperative Extension Agents
Great Lakes Fruit Workers list serve
Cornell Cooperative Extension Staff Ag leaders list serve
Extension and other ag service providers in Vermont
Cornell Fruit Program Work Team list serve
NE SARE Staff and regional coordinators
NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Organization) NY, VT, MA
NYS Soil and Water Conservation Department
NY and VT Natural resources Conservation Departments
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Venues where information was distributed:
NE Small Fruit Pest Management Issue Meeting 7/28/11
Great Lakes Fruit Workers Meeting, 11/1/11 (presentation given in addition to materials distributed)

Milestone #2
Out of those educators invited to participate, 50 will gain basic understanding and build expertise in commercial berry crop nutrition and soil management by participating in a series of 12 in-depth webinars on the subject and completing learning modules on interpretation of soil health and nutrient test results. Changes in learning will be recorded through use of pre and post-training berry crop soil and nutrient knowledge tests. September 2011 – March 2012

Part one of this milestone was achieved on 9/30/11 with 60 educators initially registering to participate in the webinar series. The first webinar of the series provided a project overview on the same date. The educator pretest was presented in the form of polls during this webinar.

Additional educators continued to register through 12/5/11, viewing recorded webinars they had missed previously and attending remaining live webinars. Total registration as of this report is 77. Registrants each participated in a demographics survey along with an educator pretest to measure understanding and expertise prior to training; a post-test will be administered at the end of the in-depth webinars series in March 2012 to document changes in learning.

As of this writing, 6 of the webinars have aired and been recorded. They are available to participants for viewing/review here:

Feedback from participants has been extremely positive; the majority of the later registrants indicated they had been referred to the program by others already participating.

Comments received from participants:
“The series is great. Even I thought I work in tree fruits not small fruits, the practical nutrient information is relevant and useful. I can look up the academic aspects; the best part of the webinars for me is the practical real world perspective on how things work, problems that occur, and practical resolutions.”

“I caught up with the first two classes, which I missed live. The soils review was a nice refresher. I’m looking forward to this afternoon and this entire program.”

“I have been told that the SARE webinars you are doing are terrific and that I should check out the one on interpreting soil results before I do my talk on that subject for Christmas tree growers. Are they archived and is there a way I can get in to view it?”

“I listened to the soil testing webinar by Marvin yesterday…it’s amazing, every time I hear this stuff I retain a little bit more understanding. It was good. Thanks for doing all the work to edit and put these recorded webinars up.“

“Thanks for the wonderful webinars – great way to learn!”

Seventy-one of the 76 original registrants have participated in at least one or more of the webinars in the series. Of those 65% have attended 3 or more webinars; 18% have attended all of the 6 webinars to date.

Milestone #3
Of those educators completing training, 15 will develop and deliver grower education programs using training materials provided to 10 or more commercial berry growers in their county or region. March 2012 – December 2012

Progress to date on this milestone encompasses initial planning and development of training materials for both educators and growers; this work is ongoing and completion is expected by mid-March 2012. A beta website has been developed and is available for review here: As this site and its associated materials are still under construction, some links are non-functional.

The timeline for completion of the grower training portion of this milestone is December 2012.

Milestone #4
500 commercial berry growers from the Northeast will be invited to improve soil and nutrient management skills by attending grower training through monthly berry newsletters, e-mail event calendars and mailed invitations. 150 growers will participate in soil and nutrition management training. Changes in learning will be recorded through use of pre- and post-training berry crop soil and nutrient knowledge tests. January 2013 – March 2013

Two presentations were made at the New England Vegetable and Berry Conference in December 2011 on nutrient management in brambles and highbush blueberries as precursors to the proposed grower training workshops to be scheduled during 2012.

Milestone #5
Out of those 150 growers attending, 48 will be recruited to participate in first time soil/leaf analysis and soil health testing, along with receiving one-on-one assistance with interpretation of results and advice for implementing knowledge gained on farm from educators. March 2013 – September 2013

No progress to date; timeline for this milestone is 2012.

Milestone #6
Changes in educator practice will be documented through post project educator interviews by the project coordinator. One-on-one interviews of participating growers will document adoption of new knowledge and practices. December 2013, 2014, 2015

No progress to date; timeline for this milestone is 2012.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes


Jeff Miller

[email protected]
Ag Issue Leader
Cornell Cooperative Extension, Oneida County
121 Second St.
Oriskany, NY 13424-9799
Office Phone: 3157363394
Mario Miranda Sazo

[email protected]
Extension Associate
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Lake Ontario Fruit Program
1581 NYS Route 88N
Newark, NY 14513-9739
Office Phone: 3153318415
Mary Catherine Heidenreich

[email protected]
Berry Extension Support Specialist
Cornell University
Deparment of Horticulture
A129 Barton Lab
Geneva, NY 14456
Office Phone: 3157872367
Keith Severson

[email protected]
Extension Executive Director
Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cayuga County
248 Grant Avenue
Auburn, NY 13021-1437
Office Phone: 3152251183
Laura McDermott

[email protected]
Extension Educator
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Capital District Vegetable and Small Fruit Program
415 Lower Main Street
Hudson Falls, NY 12839
Office Phone: 5187462562