Priority 1: Increase the production season and regional diversity of U.S. strawberry production
Establishing and expanding sustainable strawberry production in eastern Arkansas and surrounding areas
- Leonard Githinji, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
- Jim Goodson, Mid-America Strawberry Association
- Robert Cole, East Arkansas Enterprise Community
Despite the increasing demand for strawberries in Arkansas, production has been shrinking with acreage dropping steadily since the 1970s. The goal of this project was to establish and expand sustainable strawberry production in eastern Arkansas and the surrounding area. In order to achieve this goal, extensive outreach and education, including hands-on exercises and demonstrations of sustainable strawberry production, was conducted across the eastern counties of Arkansas, covering the Delta region. Project activities included strawberry workshops where principles of sustainable strawberry production were taught and participants were given hands-on experiential learning at three demonstration sites. High tunnels, low tunnels and plasticulture production were modeled at each site, in addition to cover crop and compost use. Objectives of the project included 1) demonstration of season extension technologies; 2) demonstration of sustainable methods of soil improvement and disease management; 3) demonstration of integrated pest management strategies; 4) training about water and energy conservation; and 5) training about good agricultural practices and good handling practices to reduce food safety risks for fresh strawberries.
Project Outputs and Impacts
Three strawberry sites were established, in Jefferson, Lee and Lonoke counties, to provide hands-on training and demonstration of sustainable strawberry production practices, season extension, sustainable soil management and water conservation practices. A total of 882 participants were reached through project activities, including 25 cooperative extension agents trained on sustainable strawberry production. Three season extension workshops were held, demonstrating the use of high tunnels, row covers and plastic mulch technologies. Two soil management workshops were conducted, demonstrating soil solarization, anaerobic soil disinfestation and the use of cover crops to improve soil quality and replace the use of chemical fumigants. An integrated pest management workshop was held to teach growers methods of sustainable pest and disease management and the use of beneficial insects. Two workshops were conducted about good agricultural practices and good handling practices to reduce contamination of fresh strawberries with human pathogens. Due to the work of this project, five new strawberry growers came into production, adding six acres of strawberry fields to Arkansas.