Strawberry Sustainability Focus Of Grants

After a $3 million donation by the Walmart Foundation to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, close to 20 projects are now under way to increase growth sustainability for strawberries. This grants program, administered by the division’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability (CARS), attracted 56 proposals from agricultural research and extension personnel at land-grant public universities in 29 states. Those whose projects were selected are to be given one year to complete their projects, and their reports will be released by CARS in September 2014.

“This grant project seeks to move the science and technology for alternative strawberry production systems and areas away from laboratories and experiment farms into the producers’ fields,” said Curt Rom, professor of horticulture in the Division of Agriculture and member of the CARS leadership team. “The goal is to increase local and regional production of strawberries, to reduce the environmental impact of production, to reduce transportation distances between farms and markets or consumers, to reduce product loss in the supply-value chain, and improve the environmental and economic sustainability of the production system. It will make significant local and regional impacts.”

Some examples of projects include Chieri Kubota’s goal to establish sustainable off-season hydroponic strawberry production in the desert Southwest, where there is practically no commercial production of strawberries, but there are strong greenhouse industries. Being that the price competition for tomatoes is so aggressive, the greenhouse industry is continuously experiencing pressure for diversification, which is where Kubota’s project offers promise.

The purpose of Thomas Gordon’s project is to evaluate a wide range of strawberry cultivars and the use of compost in non-fumigated soil in three different California geographic regions. The performance of strawberry cultivars will be evaluated by measuring yield and fungal damage. The results of this project will help to guide growers in selection of cultivars and the use of compost to optimize production.

Carlene Chase’s project will develop open-field and high tunnel organic strawberry cropping systems that are more environmentally and economically sustainable and are resilient to weeds, pests, and diseases. The team will select and promote strawberry cultivars specifically for organic systems and determine consumer preference and willingness to pay for strawberries with different sustainability attributes.

A complete list of the winners and their projects is given below:

  • Michelle Schroeder-Moreno, North Carolina State University, “Sustainable Soil Management Practices for Strawberries: Evaluation of Individual and Integrated Approaches.”
  • Chieri Kubota, University of Arizona, “Sustainable Off-Season Production of High-Quality Hydroponic Strawberry in Desert Southwest.”
  • Ganti Murthy, Oregon State University, “Creating Life Cycle Inventory Datasets to Support Meaningful and Constructive Strawberry Production Sustainability Metrics.”
  • Ruijun Qin, University of California, “Optimizing Fumigation Rate, Application Depth, and Plastic Mulch Use for Strawberry Production in Raised-Bed Systems.”
  • Ellen Paparozzi, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “Winter Production of Nebraska Strawberries: An Idea Whose Time Has Come.”
  • Suping Zhou, Tennessee State University, “Developing the Logistics for Producing Human Pathogen-free Organic Strawberries in the State of Tennessee.”
  • Cary Rivard, Kansas State University, “Development and Adoption of Annual, Plasticulture Strawberry Production in the Great Plains.”
  • Jeffrey Brecht, University of Florida, “Reducing Strawberry Waste and Losses in the Postharvest Supply Chain via Intelligent Distribution Management.”
  • Oleg Daugovish, University of California Cooperative Extension, “Placement of Additional Drip Lines to Enhance Soil Fumigation and Irrigation Efficiency and Minimize Environmental Impacts.”
  • Thomas Gordon, University of California at Davis, “Sustainable Strawberry Production in the Absence of Soil Fumigation.”
  • Emily Hoover, University of Minnesota, “Development of a Comprehensive, Engaging E-Learning Tool for Strawberry Farmers.”
  • Elena Garcia, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, “Revitalizing Strawberry Production in Arkansas and the Surrounding Region via Extended Season Production Systems.”
  • Jeremy Pattison, North Carolina State University, “Strawberry Grower Education and Adoption of Research Innovations: Technology Transfer of Production Recommendations.”
  • Carlene Chase, University of Florida, “Organic Open-field and High Tunnel Strawberry Cropping Systems for Long-term Viability of the Southeastern Industry.”
  • Russell Wallace, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, “Revitalization of Texas Strawberry Industry Through Identification of Production Constraints and Introduction of New Technologies.”
  • Leonard Githinji, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, “Establishing and Expanding Sustainable Strawberry Production in Eastern Arkansas and Surrounding Areas.”

“Upon completion of these projects, we will have a foundation for improving the sustainability of the U.S. strawberry production system through the supply chain, from growers to consumers,” Rom said. Considering that strawberries are the fifth most popular fruit consumed in the U.S., one can certainly see how vital these projects will be to the future of this beloved product. The resulting reports should certainly stir much anticipation for strawberry farmers nationwide.

For more information, you may go to the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative website at http://strawberry.uark.edu.

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