Priority 1: Increase the production season and regional diversity of U.S. strawberry production

Winter Production of Nebraska Strawberries: An Idea Whose Time Has Come


Project LeaderPaparozzi project photo 1

  • Ellen Paparozzi, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Project Collaborator

  • Ryan Pekarek, Pekarek's Produce

Project Summary

Many Nebraska farmers must work off the farm during the winter to bring in additional income. If winter strawberry production is shown to be profitable, it would provide an opportunity for Nebraska farmers to continue to work on-farm through the winter months. The project team developed and compared a commercial strawberry production system on a grower's farm with a scientifically monitored and ongoing prototype production system at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Project objectives were to 1) establish a heated high tunnel production system typical to what specialty crop growers use, tracking all associated costs with construction, production and marketing; 2) test the feasibility of a commercial production timeline for growing strawberries in a heated high tunnel on a production farm, and compare yield data to the university production system in a double-polyethylene greenhouse; and 3) determine gross profit and return on investment for strawberry production and develop a budget for future winter strawberry production under Nebraska conditions. For each experiment, five cultivars were grown on water-conserving capillary mats using automated irrigation and fertilization methods. Dormant crowns were received in early September and planted in a soilless mix. Harvested strawberries were weighed and graded for the fresh market.  

Paparozzi project photo 2Project Outputs and Impacts

The plants were grown in a soilless mix in 6-inch pots utilizing a capillary mat system at both sites and in two different structures -- a heated high tunnel and a double-polyethylene greenhouse. High tunnel costs were tracked and a budget was created for high tunnel construction. The cost ($26,277) was within the proposed estimate. The total cost to build and equip the high tunnel was approximately $29,000, with the owner and family helping out with labor. The cost to start the crop was $1.56 per plant, which included labor plus production costs (bees, fertilizer, heat, etc.). Three construction-related videos were filmed and posted on YouTube, and an extension circular was published to aid growers and farmers with constructing a heated high tunnel. Toward the end of the project, a Strawberry Open House was hosted at the grower’s farm where produce growers, extension agents, farmers, FFA students and others were invited to visit the heated high tunnel. In total, 98 farmers, 187 extension agents and 283 consumers were reached by this project.