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National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative Grant Awards

July 17, 2014

By Mary Hightower
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Mary Hightower
mhightower@uaex.edu / 501-671-2126

Fast Facts:
• New $1.05 million Walmart Foundation grant fuels Phase II of National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative
• Rom: Phase II moves NSSI from demonstration to implementation

(950 words)
Walmart Foundation’s $1.05 million donation fuels 2nd phase of strawberry initiative

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Ripening in mid-winter. Taking root in old cotton acres. Growing organic in conventional farms. America’s favorite berry is finding itself in places it’s never been before thanks to research, creativity and a donation from the world’s largest retailer.

Each of these new directions was grown from a $3 million donation from the Walmart Foundation to the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Sustainability, known as CARS. Last year’s donation gave birth to the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative and would fuel 20 research projects in 13 states.

All of the innovations have one aim: to provide U.S. consumers with the freshest berries raised in the most sustainable way possible everywhere they’re grown, from small family farms to cooperatives. It’s no small target either. Strawberry production was valued at $2.4 billion in 2012, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. And USDA says they are the fifth favorite fruit among American consumers, prized for its sweet taste and good-for-you versatility in the kitchen.

“At Walmart we support the issues our customers and communities care about most –sustainability being one of them,” said Dorn Wenninger, Vice President of Produce and Floral, Walmart. “We’re excited to help the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative enter Phase II where we’ll see innovation at work in the fields. As a result, we’ll have a better understanding of how to sustainably increase production and supply of one of our nation’s favorite fruits.”

New donation, new phase

A new $1.05 million donation from the Walmart Foundation is providing fuel for some of the researchers to prove their concepts in the field. From a competitive grants process, six projects working in nine states emerged to share $845,000 in funding from the new donation.

“If last year’s work was all about exploration and innovation, Phase II moves the initiative ‘From Demonstration to Implementation’,” said Curt Rom, horticulture director for CARS.

In May, the project team members presented their research at a summit held at Fayetteville’s Chancellor Hotel.

“There was an obvious energy in the room with the reports and the conference created strong synergy among the cooperators,” Rom said. “This program has clearly made significant impacts that will continue to grow. I feel certain that we will see more, better, higher quality strawberries which have been sustainably produced locally, regionally, and nationally enter our markets.” 

Learning from Phase I

Michelle Schroeder-Moreno, associate professor of Agroecology at North Carolina State University, has one of the six projects that are moving into the second phase. Her team is focused on sustainable soil and pest management, in part taking practices used in organic growing systems and using them in conventional berry growing.

“Phase II is what I’m really excited about. It’s not just doing the research, but also taking it into the adoption process,” she said. The first year’s project taught her team some key lessons. “We are learning from it. We’re not talking about traditional research – here’s a report for another journal. It’s ‘how do we make it usable. This is what we need to be doing more of.”

Taking a chance on berries

Russ Wallace, associate professor and extension horticulturist at Texas A&M, leads another of the six projects. His project works both ends of the strawberry spectrum in trying to increase the number of growers and encourage consumers to buy locally grown berries.

“Our Phase II project will add new growers willing to give strawberries a try on a small scale, and will also connect AgriLife Extension horticulture agents with growers in their counties to enable both the growers and the agent to gain experience growing strawberries,” he said.

Some of the new growers have turned cotton acreage into homes for high tunnels. “We’ll never replace cotton, but growers are looking for other ways to get cash,” Wallace said.

“Our eventual goal is to greatly increase our state’s current strawberry production acreage, now only at about 150 acres, to the point where we can all easily enjoy what could well become a uniquely Texas treat,” he said.

The phase II projects are:

• “Sustainable Soil Management Practices for Strawberries: Diverse Approaches for Facilitating Adoption.” Awarded $103,784 in funding. Led by Michelle Schroeder-Moreno, assistant professor-North Carolina State University; and Amanda McWhirt, PhD student, NCSU.

• “Implementing Low-Cost Wireless Sensor Networks for Irrigation, Nutrient Management and Frost Protection of Strawberry.” Awarded $150,000. Led by John Lea-Cox, professor, University of Maryland, Rouse, Schlagel.

• “Growing Strawberries: A Public-Private Partnership.” Awarded $146,805. Led by Elena Garcia, Donn Johnson, Michael Evans, Kristen Gibson, Matt Sheckels, David Dickey, Clyde Fenton. This proposal addresses the growing interest in revitalizing the fruit industry in Arkansas, especially strawberry production in Washington and Boone County Arkansas. In phase I, Garcia used high tunnels to grow wintertime strawberries.

• “Addressing Grower-Identified Priorities in Organic Strawberry Cropping Systems in the Southeastern US.” Awarded $200,000. Led by Carlene Chase, Michkie Swisher, Xin Zhao, Oscar Liburd, Zhifeng Gao, Sanjun Gu, Sambav, Marty Mesh. Florida and North Carolina. The goal of this multidisciplinary, integrated, research and extension project is to promote the expansion of organic strawberry production in the southeastern U.S.

• “Increasing Grower Market Potential and Consumer Preference for Locally-Grown Strawberries through Strategic Extension Programming in Texas.” Funding: $92,267. Led by Team: Russ Wallace, Peter Ampim, Juan Anciso, Joe Masabni and Larry Stein. The proposed projects will not only help to determine whether small-acreage strawberry production can expand more widely across the state, but also determine whether growers are willing to take the risks of a new crop enterprise.

• “On-Farm Performance and Nutrient Requirements of New Strawberry Varieties for the Eastern United States.” Awarded $125,000. Led by Peter Niztsche, William Hlubik, Butraigo, Handley, Demachak, Newell. Project covers New Jersey, Maryland, Maine, Pennsylvania.

Learn more about the National Sustainable Strawberry Initiative at http://strawberry.uark.edu.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status, and is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

All meetings and activities announced in this news release are open to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status. Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (large print, audiotapes, etc.) should notify the county Extension office as soon as possible prior to the activity.


May 29, 2013

Curt Rom, Department of Horticulture, Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station
479-575-2798 / sberries@uark.edu

Division of Agriculture awards grants to projects for strawberry sustainability, seeks to expand and improve production

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Projects from several states and $2.64 million in grants will add up to more sustainable strawberries for U.S. consumers, the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability (CARS) announced Wednesday, May 29, during the last week of National Strawberry Month.

The grant awards are part of a $3 million donation made in February by the Walmart Foundation to the Division of Agriculture. The competitive grants program, administered by CARS, attracted 56 proposals from agricultural research and extension personnel at land-grant public universities in 29 states.

As part of the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative grant recipients will have 12 months to complete their projects. CARS will release the project reports 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,” Rom said. “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.”

The following projects and team leaders were selected for grant funding support:

• Brian Whipker, North Carolina State University, “Strawberry Diagnostics: A Problem Solving Tool.” The project will create a web-based interactive diagnostic key that strawberry growers can access via their computer, tablet or smart phone. This key will be useful for growers of outdoor and indoor strawberries and will have application for all parts of the United States.

• Michelle Schroeder-Moreno, North Carolina State University, “Sustainable Soil Management Practices for Strawberries: Evaluation of Individual and Integrated Approaches.” The project will generate information regarding the impact of compost, cover crops, and soil inoclulants on strawberry production. How these additions influence marketable fruit yield will lead to improved soil management recommendations for how strawberries can be produced sustainably.

• Chieri Kubota, University of Arizona, “Sustainable Off-Season Production of High-Quality Hydroponic Strawberry in Desert Southwest.” The project’s goal is 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. This greenhouse industry is experiencing increasing pressure for product diversification due to the aggressive price competition for tomatoes.

• Ganti Murthy, Oregon State University, “Creating Life Cycle Inventory Datasets to Support Meaningful and Constructive Strawberry Production Sustainability Metrics.” The project’s results will have lasting impacts on the industry by disseminating environmental data and metrics that can be used for continuous improvement in strawberry production and ensuring international market access for strawberry products with information that fairly and accurately represents United States agriculture.

• Ruijun Qin, University of California, “Optimizing Fumigation Rate, Application Depth, and Plastic Mulch Use for Strawberry Production in Raised-Bed Systems.” The goal of the project is to develop effective field fumigation strategies including application depths and rates under three films for increased fumigation efficiency, improved pest control, high strawberry yield and reduced fumigant input.

• Ellen Paparozzi, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “Winter Production of Nebraska Strawberries: An Idea Whose Time Has Come.” The university’s strawberry team has developed low cost, sustainable methods for growers to produce strawberries in a winter greenhouse. The team is proposing an experimental project to develop and compare a real-time, commercial strawberry production system with a scientifically monitored prototype production system.

• Suping Zhou, Tennessee State University, “Developing the Logistics for Producing Human Pathogen-free Organic Strawberries in the State of Tennessee.” Outcomes of this project include promoting organic strawberry production by setting up demonstration farms in four major strawberry counties in Middle Tennessee, developing a safe production and consumption environment for fresh strawberries by defining the status of potential human pathogen contamination, and developing an easy-to-use tool to detect human pathogens on fresh strawberries.

• Cary Rivard, Kansas State University, “Development and Adoption of Annual, Plasticulture Strawberry Production in the Great Plains.” The project’s goal is to design a production system that is less prone to crop failures, provides a more stable income stream, and encourages new growers to enter the industry. It will also develop knowledge related to frost protection and provide an alternative to overhead irrigation for frost protection, which is costly and uses valuable water and fuel resources.

• Jeffrey Brecht, University of Florida, “Reducing Strawberry Waste and Losses in the Postharvest Supply Chain via Intelligent Distribution Management.” The team will conduct in-store consumer evaluations to document how likely consumers will be to purchase strawberries from various lot and handling scenarios. The team expects to show that a distribution system based on quality and projected shelf life compared to current practice will lead to less post-harvest loss and greater customer satisfaction.

• Oleg Daugovish, University of California Cooperative Extension, “Placement of Additional Drip Lines to Enhance Soil Fumigation and Irrigation Efficiency and Minimize Environmental Impacts.” Previous research has shown that doubling the number of drip lines with proper placement can significantly improve fumigation efficacy, establish plants with less water use and eliminate runoff and associated environmental pollution. The team will demonstrate how drip line management can save water, reduce fumigant use, prevent runoff, decrease pollution, and improve pathogen and weed management.

• Thomas Gordon, University of California at Davis, “Sustainable Strawberry Production in the Absence of Soil Fumigation.” The purpose of this 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.

• Emily Hoover, University of Minnesota, “Development of a Comprehensive, Engaging E-Learning Tool for Strawberry Farmers.” The team plans to develop an e-learning tool that will expand strawberry production using interactive multimedia to educate farmers on season extension and the use of June-bearing cultivars. The team will introduce innovative marketing techniques and resources to ensure locally-grown strawberries reach as many consumers as possible. This tool will be optimized for desktop and mobile devices, using some of the latest techniques in easy-to-use, engaging web-based educational programming.

• 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.” The project team will demonstrate the practical application of technologies and methods in three Arkansas locations and conduct outreach activities for commercial and potential growers, county extension agents, agricultural professionals and Master Gardeners. Participation in these activities will provide a greater awareness of sustainable practices, risks associated with food safety and the economics of different season extension systems and cultural practices.

• Peter Nitzsche, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, “Improved Variety Selection and Sustainability of Strawberries for the Eastern United States.” This project has the potential to expedite the evaluation of strawberry breeding selections by utilizing farmer and consumer input to provide for a more rapid release and commercialization of improved cultivars for eastern U.S. growers and consumers. This project will test larger scale propagation and distribution of advanced selections, with goals of increasing production, improving profitability of local farms, and increasing the availability of high quality fruit.

• Jeremy Pattison, North Carolina State University, “Strawberry Grower Education and Adoption of Research Innovations: Technology Transfer of Production Recommendations.” The team has developed a fall growing degree day (GDD) model that is ready for industry transfer to be used by strawberry growers to maximize yields and stabilize variation across years and locations. It plans to launch a technology transfer phase to engage growers and extension agents across North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia to test and validate the GDD model.

• Carlene Chase, University of Florida, “Organic Open-field and High Tunnel Strawberry Cropping Systems for Long-term Viability of the Southeastern Industry.” The 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.

• Russell Wallace, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, “Revitalization of Texas Strawberry Industry Through Identification of Production Constraints and Introduction of New Technologies.” The project will launch a statewide collaborative effort to address grower, retailer and consumer concerns through extension programming and a series of surveys and research. The team will coalesce these efforts into a sustainable production booklet to enhance production within Texas. This project will provide opportunities for multiple, regionally-based strawberry production conferences and trainings that will inform and demonstrate sustainable production techniques.

• Leonard Githinji, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, “Establishing and Expanding Sustainable Strawberry Production in Eastern Arkansas and Surrounding Areas.” Extensive outreach and education including hands-on exercises and demonstrations on sustainable strawberry production will be conducted across the Delta region of Arkansas . Project activities will include five sustainable strawberry production workshops and the creation of three demonstration sites with high tunnels, row covers, plastic mulch, and drip irrigation systems.

Strawberries rank as the fifth most popular consumed fresh fruit product in the U.S., which produces 27 percent of the world supply. California and Florida currently account for 98 percent of the nation’s strawberry production.

CARS is composed of Division of Agriculture faculty from multiple disciplines and focuses on enhancing economic, social and ecological prosperity for rural communities around the world. Established in 2007, CARS’s work includes developing tools for farmers in the U.S. and around the world that can predict greenhouse gas impacts in livestock operations, researching and teaching production methods that improve water quality and quantity, and enabling farms to provide healthy and safe produce.

Additional information about the projects is available at the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative website at http://strawberry.uark.edu.