Short cycling as an approach to successful organic strawberry production
“Short Cycling an Approach to Successful Organic Strawberry Production” has created interest in producing summer fruit for a high-dollar organic market. The project used a European system of planting large plug plants in the spring and producing fruit during that same growing season. The basic idea is to use the plant for one growing season and then remove it from the field. This system avoids the over wintering and frost protection associated with normal strawberry production. This short cycle also helps the producer avoid most of the insect and disease problems of strawberries.
In our project we planted large plug “Everest” day neutral strawberry plants the first of May and harvested fruit from the end of June until the middle of October. The plants produced just over one pound of fruit per plant. The fruit was sold at farmers markets and a farm stand for $3.00 per pound. This was all accomplished using organic protocols for production. We used compost for the nutrient requirements and needed no pesticide applications for insects or diseases. We looked at the use of high tunnels and brassica green manures as other organic production factors.
We held a field day for local producers and have produced a research report in the form of a brochure that will be sent to producers throughout the Northeast. We are also working with producers to plant about 20,000 plants (1.3 acres) in 2007.
1. Evaluate European methods of strawberry production that produce fruit in the summer. The following two systems were tried in Garrett County in 2006.
–a. Annual Ever Bearing system that involves planting large plug plants in the spring, produces fruit, and then is removed from the field.
–b. A 60 day June bearing plant that is planted every two weeks starting the first of May. These plants should produce fruit after being in the ground for 50-60 days.
2. Evaluate the profitability of the European methods in Garrett County by:
–a. measuring the yields obtained.
–b. gauging the market price potential by selling the fruit at local farmers markets and a farm stand.
3. Evaluating the potential for organic production methods using these systems.
–a. the plants were established using organic production methods. Compost was used to provide nutrients and no chemical applications were made to control insects or diseases.
–b. we also evaluated the use of high tunnels for disease and insect protection.
–c. we also incorporated fresh cut brassicas (broccoli, rape, and mustard) into some of the plots for soil borne diseases.
4. Promote this system with potential producers by:
–a. hosting a field day at the project site
–b. creating a research report that will be mailed to producers throughout the Northeast
The accomplishment of the project “Short Cycling an Approach to Successful Organic Strawberry Production” are:
1. The project adopted the European annual day-neutral strawberry production system and was successful in producing an economically profitable production level in the first year. United Kingdom production averages around 1.2 pounds per plant. Our plants average just over 1 pound per plant. This indicates with modifications (such as planting earlier) we should be able to match production in Europe. Although a costly system (about $.50 per plant or $7,500/acre), the system is very profitable because of the off season production of high quality fruit. The farmer marketed all of the fruit at local farmers markets and a roadside stand for $3.00 per pint (.7 pound). The berries were not sold as organic since the farm that produced them is not certified organic.
2. With the European system of using June-bearing plants planted every two weeks starting may first and expecting fruit 60 days later, the results were not as good as with the ever-bearers. We were able to plant and establish plants in this system, however the plants were only about 20-30% as productive as plants are in Europe. Our plants averaged less than one ounce per plant which did not cover the cost of establishment. Several factors probably influenced the low production. We did not have access to the same varieties as used in Europe and the same type of plant (we used a dormant cold chilled plant were they use a dormant fresh dug type plant). With these factors and the fact that earlier planted (1st two plants) plants did produce fruit there may be a place for this system in the future.
3. We did accomplish the production of summer strawberries under organic conditions. Constant observation did not reveal any disease or insects that needed any type of control. We credit this to the fact that the plants were only in the ground from May until November. The farm does plan to replant the high tunnel and adjacent outside area to strawberries again next year. We will continue to monitor the site to determine if the short cycling is able to accomplish disease and insect protection. The project also compared plant grown inside a high tunnel to outside production. The primary purpose of the high tunnel in this case was for insect and disease prevention. There was no noticeable difference in disease and insect pressure inside and outside of the high tunnel. We also measure fruit production and there was no difference in fruit production inside versus outside. The only noticeable difference in the inside and outside production was that fruit production inside the tunnel peaked earlier in the season than the production outside. The other organic measure was the application of green brassica manure to some of the test plots for the control of soil borne diseases. There were no noticeable diseases or plant death that appeared in any of the test plots. There were also no differences in fruit production in the treated versus untreated test plots.
4. We have accomplished much in the area of outreach with this project. We held a field day at the project site. The field day was attended by 40+ interested and potential producers. We have also prepared a research report in the format of a brochure that will be mailed out to 1000+ fruit producers in the northeast. We have also presented information from this project at the 2007 Northeast Region American Society for Horticultural Science meeting and the 2007 Mid Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
A survey was conducted at the end of the field day held at the project site. To the question “After attending this field day rank how the field day has helped your understanding of day neutral strawberry production” survey participants indicated an average of a 4.3 on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being designated as very helpful. The attendees at the field day were also asked to indicate if they were interested in obtaining more information on strawberry production. 90% of the survey participants indicated they wanted more information. The participants were also asked if they would be interested in participating in a group order for day neutral strawberries to be planted in an annual system in 2007. A large number indicated they were interested. This type of plant can not be ordered from an existing supplier. We have made arrangement with a local greenhouse to get the plants in February and prepare them for plug planting in the spring. We currently have 15 people who have order 200+ plants each and a total of nearly 20,000 plants (enough for 1.3 acres). The only day neutral plants planted in 2006 in this system were planted in our two SARE grant projects (about 2,000 plants).
4288 Broadford Rd
Oakland, MD 21550
Office Phone: 3015331026
Univeristy of Maryland
2102 Plant Sciences Building
Univeristy of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742-4452
Office Phone: 3014054337