Improving Worker Welfare and Grower Profitability in Small-scale Strawberry Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2018: $22,474.00
Projected End Date: 08/28/2020
Grant Recipient: Tanglewood Berry Farm
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Richard Barnes
Tanglewood Berry Farm

Information Products


  • Fruits: berries (strawberries)


  • Crop Production: cropping systems
  • Farm Business Management: labor/employment

    Proposal summary:

    This project will evaluate the economic viability of small-scale strawberry production using an elevated cropping system under field conditions. Elevated cropping systems are currently used in controlled greenhouse environments where growers achieve high yields, quality fruit and efficient harvests. However, these systems are not adapted for field use. The biggest problems associated with using a field elevated system for strawberries are keeping soil temperatures below 77F and preventing excessive water loss.

    The proposed system will be economical to build and uses a novel design to solve these problems. Growing troughs will be protected by reflective shade netting and constructed from materials with evaporative cooling properties. A media mix with low thermal conductivity will be used to reduce soil temperature changes. Wireless sensors will monitor soil moisture and temperature and signal the automated drip irrigation system. Efficient heat transfer, reflection of the sun’s radiation and timed irrigation events will regulate temperature and water levels.

    Strawberries will be positioned at waist-level for easier harvesting and plant work. Workers should experience less stress on their backs and knees with this system compared to conventional ground systems. Workers will get health benefits while growers should see greater harvest efficiencies and higher profits.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Identify strawberry cultivars which give the best yields and harvest efficiencies in an elevated field production system.
    2. Assess worker benefits of using an elevated system.
    3. Identify the most cost-effective configuration of wireless sensors and controllers to monitor media moisture and temperature (media and air).
    4. Evaluate the use of growing troughs and shade netting constructed from materials which can prevent heat build- up in the growing media through evaporative cooling, reflection of the sun’s radiation and thermal conductivity.
    5. Share findings at field days hosted in Indiana and Ohio, the farms’ Facebook websites and at a conference presentation.
    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.