Research leads to 4 month longer Ohio Strawberry harvest season and $5 million in annual sales

By: Brad Bergefurd, Extension Horticulture Specialist

Thanks to funding from the Ohio Fruit Growers Society, the Ohio Vegetable and Small Fruit Research and Development Program, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the Ohio strawberry harvest and marketing season expanded from a historical 3 week harvest season to a 5 month harvest and marketing season. New production techniques researched and taught by the OSU South Centers Specialty Crops program provided the basis for this extended season.

In an effort to increase local strawberry supply and availability and to capture consumer market demand previously sourced from out of state suppliers, Horticulture Specialist Brad Bergefurd as the strawberry research and education project Principle Investigator, acquired grant funding to conduct field and greenhouse research to introduce and develop new extended season strawberry growing systems to Ohio. The research and extension education program has resulted in extending the Ohio harvest season from a traditional 3-week harvest and marketing season to a 5-month harvest window, more than doubling yields per acre compared to Ohio’s traditional matted row production system.

In 2017, many Ohio strawberry growers reported the highest yields ever achieved on their farms, many exceeding 2 quarts per plant with annual strawberry retail sales exceeding $5 million. This new strawberry production system requires new plant types, not available in Ohio before. A propagation protocol and curriculum was developed and taught to assist with the development and creation of a new Ohio strawberry plug plant propagation industry where Ohio nurseries are now producing strawberry plug plants with annual plant sales exceeding $2 million.

Bergefurd and other Specialty Crops Team members have taught on season extension strawberry production techniques throughout Ohio for county-based Extension programs, field days and at 26 national programs, workshops and conferences, and have authored 18 technical reports and fact sheets on these new production techniques including day neutral production, plasticulture production, matted row production, greenhouse and high tunnel production. These strawberry production techniques have now been adopted by farms throughout Ohio, the Midwest and Canada.