Hort program receives USDA grant

By: Brad Bergefurd, MS, Horticulture Specialist and Extension Educator
 
Ohioans consume over 89 million pounds of strawberries annually, however, Ohio farmers currently only produce 1.8 million pounds annually (USDA, NR-15-06, 2015). The additional 87 million pounds of strawberries, currently sourced from farms outside of Ohio, has an estimated annual farm level value of $165.3 million.  Ohio being home to several food industries such as the J.M. Smucker Company in Orrville, Ohio which utilize a large portion of strawberries for their processing operations, and Sanfillipo Produce Company in Columbus which utilizes fresh market strawberries for direct as well as wholesale produce markets, there are many Ohio markets for fresh, local strawberries and growers who are able to provide an extended season crop often have the marketing edge. 
 
Traditionally, Ohio growers have produced strawberries using the matted row or ribbon row production methods. In 2001, the Ohio State University Piketon Research & Extension Center began to pursue a new strawberry field production technique to help growers harvest an earlier crop – the plasticulture strawberry production system.
 
Based on the increased interest in buying locally grown and produced items, Ohio growers are investing in producing specialty crops, including strawberries, for the Ohio consumer market. However, research driven production guidelines for insect and disease management, irrigation and fertilization needed to produce strawberries for an extended season in an ecological and economically sustainable manner are lacking. Further, Ohio growers are left without sufficient resources or knowledge for connecting to Ohio markets and meeting required food safety guidelines. 
 
For those willing to make the investment in time and resources, the strawberry plasticulture system may be a good choice for some farms. Strawberries are increasingly being planted on plastic mulch covered beds as a popular way to extend the harvest and marketing season outside of the traditional June market window, thus capturing a profit from the high demand for local strawberries. 
 
This system allows the grower to have berries up to one month sooner than growers using the traditional matted row system. One of the main advantages of this system is a potential earlier harvest, providing a competitive edge in the marketplace relative to traditional matted row strawberry production systems.  Other potential advantages include higher yield, enhanced fruit quality, less disease and increased harvest labor efficiency. 
 
Thanks to support from the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the USDA Specialty Crop Block Gant program, OSU South Centers horticulture researcher Brad Bergefurd has received funding to conduct research and Extension programs to identify techniques that maximize strawberry production, increase harvest windows and provide winter protection of strawberries through cultural management.     
 
For future reports or information from the strawberry research and Extension program, to view previous year’s trial results or to be added to our commercial horticulture email list, visit our web site at  http://southcenters.osu.edu/hort/ or contact Brad Bergefurd, Bergefurd.1@osu.edu or Charissa Gardner gardner.1148@osu.edu or call the OSU South Centers 1-800-860-7232 or 740-289-3727 extension #136.