By Brad Bergefurd
Assistant Professor and Specialty Crops Specialist
Locally produced strawberries have outstanding market potential, however the number of farms growing strawberries and strawberry production acreage are decreasing in many areas of Midwest United States.
High production risk is the main reason causing the decrease of strawberry production in the region. In the past three years, extreme weather conditions across Midwest in spring (late frost, excessive precipitation, drought) have made the traditional mattered-row strawberry production even more challenging.
A quarter-million-dollar North Central Sustainable Agriculture and Education (SARE) grant will make it possible for Ohio State University and Purdue University strawberry researchers and farmers to develop and modify strawberry production systems that may reduce this risk and increase profit and market potential.
Many Ohio farms have doubled their harvest and marketing season through adoption of the modified annual plasticulture strawberry production method that was developed by OSU South Centers for Ohio and Midwest cool climate growing conditions. However, growers continue to express more interest in alternative strawberry production systems that have potential to increase yields and harvest seasons, as well as provide increased protection from harsh winter weather and temperature extremes.
Preliminary research on soil-based high tunnel and low tunnel strawberry production achieved promising results that attracted great attention from farmers throughout Ohio and the Midwest, encouraged South Centers researchers to continue optimizing production practices of using these systems in the lower north-central United States. Encouraged by previous promising results and tremendous grower interest, this project will enhance strawberry production in the north-central region by optimizing soil-based strawberry production practices under three tunnel systems.
The tunnel systems to be researched include: 1) four-season high tunnel; 2) hay grove high tunnel; and 3) low tunnels. Each tunnel system will have a unique research focus: Ultimate crop growth in fall and winter, as well as fertility management to target fast crop growth are focus of the four-season high tunnel system; winter protection materials and suitable cultivars will be evaluated for the hay grove high tunnel system; and suitable cultivars and different timing of install and removal of plastic to maximize crop growth and minimize spring frost damage comprise the research focus of the low tunnel systems.
An integrated research approach including using cultural practices, fertility management, biological pesticides, and bio-control agents will be established to facilitate success of the tunnel strawberry production system. Economic feasibility of the three tunnel systems will be evaluated in the context of different production scales. Project information will be delivered through multiple outreach channels, upcoming field days, conferences and workshops, and a Midwest strawberry production guide under tunnel systems will be developed through the project.
The future of increased strawberry production in Ohio looks great as we continue to research profitable new season extension methods that can be adopted by Ohio farms.
To see research results and production methods on proven season extension strawberry production practices developed by the OSU South Centers visit: southcenters.osu.edu/horticulture/fruits/strawberries or contact Brad Bergefurd. at email@example.com.