Priority 2: Reducing Chemical Inputs
Organic Open-field and High Tunnel Strawberry Cropping Systems for Long-term Viability of the Southeastern Industry
- Carlene Chase, University of Florida, Horticultural Sciences Department
- Xin Zhao, University of Florida, Horticultural Sciences Department
- Oscar E. Liburd, University of Florida, Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Zhifeng Gao, University of Florida, Food and Resource Economics Department
- Marilyn E. Swisher, University of Florida, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences
- Sambhav Sambhav, Driscoll Strawberry Associates, Inc.
Marty Mesh, Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, Inc.
- Sanjun Gu, North Carolina A&T State University
The goal of this project was to determine the efficacy and suitability of cover crops in organic strawberry production to suppress weeds and nematodes and to improve soil quality and health. Eight strawberry cultivars were evaluated in four cover crop treatments. Cultivars were evaluated by plant growth parameters, fruit yield components and fruit quality attributes throughout the season. Sensory tests and an online survey were used to gather public opinion of these cultivars. Strawberries were grown in both open field and high tunnel systems. Organic pest management strategies using predatory species and trapping methods were developed to replace chemical pesticides. Trap and lure monitoring systems were used in the strawberry fields to target low populations of spotted-wing drosophila. Organic pest management tactics in the high tunnels included the use of the predatory mite Neoseiulus californicus for control of the two-spotted spider mite and cyclamen mite. Information gathered by this project was disseminated to the public through field days, workshops and seminars.
Project Outputs and Impacts
The project team found that growers have options when it comes to rotating cover crops with an organic strawberry crop. Sunn hemp resulted in the tallest cover crops and the greatest amount of above ground biomass. However, hairy indigo and American joint vetch performed just as well at suppressing weeds. More than 200 growers were reached through trainings at five workshops and four field days, and 10 new acres of organic strawberries were put into production by farmers involved with the project. A spotted wing drosophila (SWD) symposium was organized at the Florida Entomological Society meeting with a discussion about monitoring and attractiveness of baits for assessing SWD populations in strawberries. The cover crops and strawberry varieties that had the best resistance to two-spotted spider mite were selected and advanced to a Phase II study. A national industry magazine, "Growing Produce," used the project press release for a feature article in their electronic magazine, reaching more than 14,000 readers. More than 2,700 consumers were reached through the sensory test and online survey. Those results revealed that consumers are willing to pay more for sustainably produced strawberries than those that are conventionally grown. This information is valuable to growers who are considering the switch to sustainable farming methods in order to improve profitability.