Evaluation of Alternative Strategies for Small Fruit Production
Five of the states in the Northeastern Region propose to continue research on a multidisciplinary project exploring the feasibility of production techniques for strawberries and brambles which could greatly reduce chemical pesticide and fertilizer inputs while maintaining profitability.
This project will study nearly all phases of strawberry and bramble production, from preplant preparation to postharvest disease control, evaluating new strategies to lower chemical pesticide applications, while maintaining a high-quality product. Specific experimental objectives include: evaluation of non-chemical techniques of soil sterilization, weed control and ground cover management; screening of strawberry and raspberry germplasm for disease and insect susceptibility and productivity; evaluation of new planting and production practices designed to reduce pest pressure; and evaluation of biological agents for the control of postharvest fruit rots.
This study will be carried out by extension specialists, agents and research scientists from four universities, the United States Dept. of Agriculture, a private company, and small fruit growers. Information transfer is a priority, using such diverse means as a sustainable small fruit newsletter, grower experimental plots, the participation of growers in integrated pest management programs, the development of user-friendly software for grower implementation, as well as more traditional means of information dissemination such as grower meetings, trade journals and scientific publications. Much of this project will require field research (and funding) over several years, due to the perennial nature of the crops and climatic variations.
(1) To devise and test production and pest management practices which will reduce the need for chemical pesticides and fertilizer.
(2) To transfer technological advances by demonstrating the feasibility, profitability and rationality of alternative practices to existing and potential small fruit growers.
(3) To evaluate the economic feasibility of newly developed sustainable practices.
Results to Date
During the last reporting period, the project has focused more on the critical phases of strawberry production, with less emphasis on red raspberry production. The research includes but is not limited to non-chemical techniques of soil sterilization and/or increased fertility, integrated pest management techniques for weed, insect and disease control, screening of strawberry germplasm for disease and insect susceptibility and productivity, characterization of a new system for red raspberry production, and the identification and evaluation of biological agents and agricultural composts for the control of post-harvest rots and black root rot.
If widely adopted, participants suggest, their findings would allow farmers to continue to produce a profitable crop while minimizing pesticide inputs. This is because emphasis would shift from chemical treatment after the pest symptoms are observed to preventative measures before problems occur. Tolerant cultivars, improved cultural system and biological control agents are part of this preventive IPM approach. The project has identified and tested many such practices that would not be expensive to implement. Chemical treatments would still be available if preventive measures fail, but they would not be used as a first line of defense.
If rowcovers are widely adopted as a tool for strawberry production in the Northeast, yield increases of 25-50 percent could be realized, depending on the percentage of fields using this treatment and the varieties used. This would increase profits to farmers without requiring additional land or fertilizer inputs, and could reduce the amount of insecticide used presently for tarnished plant bug.
If tarnished plant bug resistance (as was found in this research with small plots) could be exploited in large single strawberry variety fields, growers could achieve significant reductions in insecticide inputs with little or no loss in profits. If resistance to tarnished plant bug is dependent on the presence of susceptible (preferred) varieties, then a system of trap crops could be developed which would allow farmers to reduce or eliminate insecticide use for this pest.