- Fruits: berries (strawberries)
- Crop Production: food product quality/safety
- Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
- Pest Management: biorational pesticides
Strawberry production is increasing in mid-southern states such as Texas and Arkansas, largely due to increased demand by consumers for fresher tasting, locally-produced, high quality berries. The National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative (NSSI) recently funded projects in Arkansas, Texas as well as other states that have increased the interest of growers, including small-acreage limited resource farmers who desire to capture higher revenues. The greatest limitation to organic strawberry production is pest management (diseases, insects and mites) and this is especially true when few control options are available. Current control options often include such products as home remedies (soaps, etc.), but also include commercially-available biocontrol products. During the second year of the NSSI-funded Texas Strawberry Project, collaborating organic strawberry growers reported devastating losses of 50% – 90%, with the major losses coming from fruit diseases like Anthracnose, powdery mildew and Botrytis Gray Mold. The majority of these farmers have limited resources and attempt to keep expenditures at a minimum. However, with such high losses, these growers are also interested in recommendations for biocontrol products that offer the most ‘bang for the buck’. Most of the farmers in the project were first and second-year strawberry producers, and were generally unaware of currently registered and commercially available biocontrol products including their performance at controlling pests, and whether they are cost effective. Additionally, many farmers have a distrust of the information and claims they received from sales representatives of biocontrol products because of their sensitivity to environmental conditions upon use. Often due to financial constraints, limited resource farmers usually wait until there is significant pest incidence before spending money on control measures and this is often too late to be effective.
The objective of this 3-year multidisciplinary and multi-state project will be to evaluate selected commercially-available biocontrol and organically labeled products for controlling economically-damaging diseases and insects in strawberries. Our approach will include on-farm trials with our cooperating organic growers and with controlled trials at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center in Lubbock, the Prairie View A&M University at Prairie View, and the University of Arkansas Research Farm in Fayetteville. We will evaluate the selected products and active ingredients using both preventive and curative strategies for pests under protective coverings like high and low tunnels, as well as in open field strawberry production. Plasticulture, including tunnels have the potential to reduce fruit diseases but have also been shown to increase insect and mite populations. Though somewhat costly to construct, growers are increasingly using tunnels as a result of the NRCS EQIP cost-sharing program and their benefits including improved fruit quality and season extension. Therefore, a multi-faceted and sensible approach to pest control that includes preventative and curative sprays as well as protective production is needed in organic and sustainable strawberry production. The results of this project will greatly benefit our limited resource farmers with scientifically-based management solutions for controlling pests in organic and sustainable strawberry production and improve their chances for greater success and profitability.
Project objectives from proposal:
The objectives of the proposed project will enhance the economic and environmental sustainability of limited resource farmers that choose to grow strawberries utilizing organic/sustainable practices in high/low tunnels or in open field production. The results of this project will also benefit non-organic producers who wish to utilize non-synthetic alternatives for controlling insects and diseases. There are five main objectives to the project that will include working collaboratively with three or more limited resource organic strawberry growers in Texas and Arkansas, and will include experienced researchers and specialists from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Prairie View A&M University, the University of Arkansas and the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. This core group will provide expertise and will collaborate on all decisions regarding all the aspects of the proposed project.
As a group we will:
(1) Decide which control products to include (based on grower’s needs) and then evaluate the efficacy of the selected commercial biocontrol products with or without protective covers (e.g. high/low tunnels) for disease and insect control in the mid-South;
(2) Evaluate the costs of production using the selected biocontrol products to determine their cost-effectiveness in organic strawberries. Products must be economical to be sustainable;
(3) Provide training opportunities for our growers, Extension agents, and crop consultants with on-farm demonstration trials, field days and the opportunity to share results and thoughts on the products through annual workshops and conferences;
(4) When trials are completed annually, we will analyze and summarize all the collected data to report at our planned events, or at regional and national scientific horticulture meetings through submitted abstracts or peer-review publications; and
(5) Upon completion of the 3-year project we will provide our limited resource farmers and other region-wide stakeholders with up-to-date scientifically-researched recommendations on current biocontrol products and finalize the project by preparing and publishing a Biocontrol Guide for Strawberries which will be made available online through our university bookstores.