Evaluating Organic Pest Control Products for Strawberries in Combination with High and Low Tunnels for Limited Resource Farmers in the Mid-South
This strawberry project is a collaborative effort with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, University of Arkansas, Prairie View A&M University and the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. This is the first year of the 3-year project. The project purpose is to evaluate commercially-available biocontrol products for efficacy and cost in strawberries. Our main target audience are the limited-resource and small-acreage farmers in the mid-south. Additionally, we have or have planned workshops, field tours and conferences where this SARE project and its results are discussed.
Currently the project has ongoing research trials at the three universities listed above. Trials were initiated in September/October 2016 and strawberries are currently being treated with products and harvesting began in January in South Texas and February/March in Arkansas and Lubbock. First year data will not be complete until June 2017. Five growers are also participating in the project (three in Texas, two in Arkansas).
The collaborators of the project have held five combined field tours of research trials and grower’s demonstration projects since October 2016. Additionally, presentations have been given at two conferences and two workshops. The SARE Strawberry Workshop was held in Ft. Worth, TX on October 12 and was attended by 35 participants from Texas and Arkansas. The project was also discussed at the annual Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Conference on January 12. Finally, this SARE project was discussed through one article in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal (online and print), three times on West Texas Ag radio (AM950- Lubbock) and twice on Fox34 News (Lubbock) with an exposure of approximately 180,750 public stakeholders.
The results of the first year project are still being collected. However, of the trials and demonstrations, two growers have had issues including one grower not following the protocol properly and one grower having a crop failure. However, the second growers is still applying project treatments to other strawberries. As a result of the timing of the data collection, complete results of the first year are not yet available.
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.
Planting of strawberries was successfully completed in September/October in both Arkansas and Texas. Overall, strawberry growth and development has been good throughout the project. However, a crop failure occurred with one of three growers in Texas and one grower in Arkansas either didn’t understand the objective or failed to follow it. In Lubbock, a crop failure in the organic blocks was attributed to high salt concentration in the compost applied prior to planting resulting in a stand loss of almost 50%. As a result, the biocontrol treatments are being applied to the conventional block of strawberries for this first year in order to obtain adequate data. Texas grows approximately 150 acres of strawberries and increased contact with the large-acreage growers in the Poteet region have resulted from this project.
Products were purchased as-needed from distributors or samples were supplied by biocontrol manufacturers interested in having their products evaluated. Immediately following the press release announcing the project, three manufacturers of biocontrol products contacted the lead investigator (Wallace) to request evaluation of their products.
Significant interest in organic strawberry and small-farm/high tunnel strawberry production has increased as a result of this project. Research at all three locations received numerous contacts (phone or email) weekly from those interested in strawberry production and the results of the trials. Wallace receives emails at least 3 -5 times weekly on strawberries and the project. Significant local media interest (radio, TV and newspaper) has created wide exposure in Texas. As a project, our collaborators have held five field tours. Additionally, presentations have been given at two conferences and two workshops. The SARE Strawberry Workshop was held in Ft. Worth, TX on October 12 and was attended by 35 participants from Texas and Arkansas. The project was also discussed at the annual Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Conference on January 12. Finally, this SARE project was discussed through one article in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal (online and print), three times on West Texas Ag radio (AM950- Lubbock) and twice on Fox34 News (Lubbock) with an exposure of approximately 180,750 public stakeholders.
As a result of the planting and harvest timings of the strawberries in this project, no complete results have been achieved as of yet. However, Garcia in Arkansas reports that they have differences in treatments applied for botrytis and powdery mildew, and that the products are better than the untreated plots; however, yields have been uncharacteristically low. Ampim at Prairie View A&M reports that all trials are progressing well and that there have been 9 – 12 harvests of the berries so far. High tunnel harvests began 9 days earlier than open field harvests. Marketable fruit achieved so far are two times higher in the high tunnel compared to open field production. Differences in pests including spider mites have been reported. Levels of spider mites are high inside the high tunnel and require more sprays compared to the open field where no spider mites have been observed.
Wallace reports that there has been an atypical pest population for the spring 2017 harvest in Lubbock. This is the first year where no spider mites have been observed in high tunnel strawberries. However, there has been a higher number of lepidopterous pests (and moths) with higher percentage of feeding in high tunnels. The earlier fruiting variety Festival has significantly more feeding damage to the berries than does Camino Real, which flowered about 10 days later than Festival. Insect treatments may have been applied a bit late to Festival but the timing was good with Camino Real. To date, no insect populations were observed in open field strawberries (although both disease and insect treatments are being applied weekly). Fruit quality in Lubbock is excellent though yields appear to be less this year, possibly due to warm spring temperatures and earlier than normal heavy flower set.
Overall, the project has been successful for Year 1 and continues to progress well. No work has been done on the biocontrol guide because it is still early in the project and no complete results have been reported.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Both Arkansas and Texas growers have been impacted by the results of this collaborative project. Small-acreage farmers with limited resources often need targeted research to address their specific needs. Their needs are often significantly different than large commercial operations. This project meets their needs in addressing pest management options in organic strawberries. While the efficacy of these products has not yet been determined, there has been significant interest in what these products can do.
Public stakeholders have been impacted because there is a significant increase in locally-grown strawberries, especially in the Texas High Plains. Local consumers are willing to pay significantly higher prices for local strawberries and indicate that because of their freshness and picking quality, flavor of the berries is greater than those shipped from outside states. When local consumers are willing to pay higher prices, our limited-resource farmers make higher profits and are incentivized to grow more strawberries and other organic produce.
Organic strawberry growers and the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association have been pleased with the collaborative project. Previously the organic growers in Texas felt that there was little ongoing research from university faculty. This project has provided a better means of bringing organic growers and Texas A&M faculty together and created a source of information.
Significant media attention has been a positive outreach goal for this project, and in Year 1 this has been achieved, especially in Texas. With almost 200, 000 contacts since the start of the project, outreach has been a great impact of this project.
Strawberry growers, particularly those growing organically have been impacted as this ongoing research will help to determine whether biocontrol products are effective and worth the cost of purchase. Most growers receive information on these types of products from salespeople. Thus having impartial and replicated research will aid in their decision-making process as they plan for pest control in their organic strawberries.
Thus far the project has generated significant interest and excitement. In both states, there appears to be more growers interested in producing local strawberries and growing them organically/sustainably.
Cooperative Agricultural Research Center
Prairie View, TX 77446
316 Plant Sciences Building
Department of Horticulture
Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701
Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
GROW North Texas
P.O. Box 7103
Dallas, Texas 75209
University of Arkansas
Department of Horticulture
Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability
Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701
Department of Horticulture
Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701