- Fruits: berries (strawberries)
- Crop Production: cropping systems, low tunnels, row covers (for season extension)
- Education and Training: decision support system, farmer to farmer, participatory research
- Pest Management: integrated pest management
Problem & Justification: Over 2,700 farms in the Northeast produce strawberry as a high-value crop marketed through retail, wholesale, and pick-your-own channels. Many growers continue to use the traditional matted row system of growing strawberries. Others are using plastic mulch to improve weed management and boost yields, but have encountered new challenges (e.g. winter survival and runner removal). Several new tools for strawberry producers are now available, including smaller protective structures, new photoselective films and rowcovers, and new cultivars; but few have been systematically tested for the climate and unique management practices used in the Northeast. This has resulted in a poor understanding of how they perform in the Northeast. Barriers to success for strawberry growers in the region include difficulty establishing, overwintering and maintaining healthy plants, lack of information about profitability and regional relevance of new production systems, varieties and technologies, and labor limitations on diversified farms.
Solution & Approach: We propose to advance strawberry production in the Northeast by: (1) providing highly accessible, specialized education about new, emerging, and tried-and-true strawberry production practices that are likely to improve growers’ profitability, (2) conducting research specifically designed to answer common questions that are directly impeding grower success, and (3) to characterize the innovative and diverse production systems being used by strawberry growers throughout the Northeast through a series of grower interviews.
Our educational approach includes: 1) A revised and updated Strawberry Production Guide for the Northeast, Midwest and Eastern Canada (NRAES-88) to include several recent developments in strawberry production; 2) Webinars addressing critical and emerging practices to help new and experienced growers succeed with strawberry production; 3) Regional strawberry production tours, grower workshops, and twilight meetings to demonstrate innovative practices and facilitate farmer-to-farmer information exchange; and 4) Presentations at regional conferences to share research results and further promote farmer-to-farmer interactions.
Our three research objectives are: 1) To compare rowcovers of varying thickness and different application times for winter protection of June-bearing plasticulture strawberries; 2) To evaluate the effects of low tunnels on yield and quality of June-bearing strawberries in on-farm experiments; 3) To identify opportunities and challenges associated with different strawberry production systems in New England and New York through a series of interviews of strawberry growers.
Milestones & Performance Target: Four grower-cooperators and 30 interviewees will be directly involved in project activities, and over 500 strawberry growers and 20 agricultural service providers will participate in events and use resources developed by the project. Ultimately, over 100 growers (covering >50 acres) will adopt practices that: increase yields, fruit quality and/or winter survival of strawberries, prolong the fruiting season, and reduce pesticide applications or labor, resulting in 50 producers increasing their annual crop revenues by an average of $2000 per farm.
Performance targets from proposal:
100 growers with a total of 50 acres of fruiting strawberries will each adopt one new practice to increase yields, fruit quality and/or winter survival of strawberries, prolong the fruiting season, and reduce pesticide applications or labor. 50 growers will report an average increase in annual revenues of $2000 each.