Alternative Production Methods for Increasing Sustainability of North Florida Strawberry Producers
As late as the 1960’s there were over 1,000 acres of strawberries produced in North Florida. Currently there are less than 75 acres in production. North Florida strawberry producers have lost their competitive advantage in the marketplace due to November and December production in central Florida and January through June production in California.
North Florida strawberry producers have not been able to achieve early production (and receive significantly higher prices) because bare root strawberry plants are not available until the third week in October and plug plants are not available until mid October.
The answer to sustaining the economic viability of North Florida strawberry producers is to widen the market window with earlier, more profitable production. This can be achieved by developing alternative production practices that will make plug strawberry plants available as early as September 1, which will allow marketable strawberry fruit to be available in November.
In this SARE Producer Grant, Larry Gilliard will demonstrate the production and marketing of strawberries in North Florida at a time when strawberries have not traditionally been grown. This early season production will be accomplished by taking daughter plants from local fields at the end of the regular season in June when temperatures typically become too hot for strawberry production. These daughter plants will be collected and transplanted into containerized growing flats where they will be grown for 6-12 weeks with optimum irrigation, fertility, insect and disease management.
After the young daughter plants have been successfully grown to the proper transplant stage, they will be moved into a rented refrigerated trailer where the temperature will be reduced to 50 degrees for two weeks. This chilling period will make the plants “think” that they have been through a winter period and are ready to begin fruit production. Research had identified this cooling requirement as a major obstacle to Florida strawberry transplant production.
University of Florida