Phase II

Addressing Grower-Identified Priorities in Organic Strawberry Cropping Systems in the Southeastern US

 

Contact: Carlene Chase, 352-273-4770, cacahse@ufl.educhase experimental field

Leadership Team

  • Carlene Chase, University of Florida, Horticulture 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
  • Sanjun Gu, North Carolina A&T State University
  • Mickie Swisher, University of Florida, Center for Sustainable and Organic Food Systems

Project Collaborators

  • Marty Mesh, Florida Certified Organic Growers and consumers, Inc
  • Alejandro Bolques, Florida A & M University, Extension Agent/ Horticulture and Small Farms

Chase phase 2 photo 2

Summary

The goal of this grower-directed, multidisciplinary research and extension project was to promote the expansion of organic strawberry production in the Southeastern U.S. by designing organic strawberry cropping systems that are more environmentally and economically sustainable and are resilient to weeds, pests, and diseases. Project partners include North Carolina A&T State University, Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, Inc. and four organic growers in Florida and North Carolina. Project activities included the evaluation of various components of an organic strawberry system, including cultivar trials, cover crop evaluations for weed and nematode management, high tunnel production, and insect and mite pest management practices, on organic farms and experiment station land in Florida and North Carolina. Additionally, a nationwide survey to determine customer preferences was conducted.  Outreach activities included research assessments, three field days, one workshop, and oral and poster presentations at grower and scientific conferences.

Project Outputs and ImpactsChase phase 2 photo 3

Florida cover crop studies resulted in sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea) producing the greatest dry biomass, which exceeded 6,245 pounds per acre. Growers using this cover crop for organic strawberry production may need to consider nutrient credits when managing soil fertility. Various Crotalaria species were tested for susceptibility to sting nematode, a key pest in strawberry production in Florida. The sunn hemp cultivar Tropic Sun was not susceptible, which is an important consideration if using sunn hemp as a cover crop before strawberry planting. One farmer-cooperator decided that he will use more sunn hemp as a cover crop because it effectively suppressed volunteers from a previous edible leaf amaranth crop.  Results from trials with selected strawberry cultivars in Florida indicated that full-season marketable and total fruit weights did not differ among cultivars; however, Festival had the highest marketable fruit number, the lowest average fruit weight, and the highest level of total monomeric anthocyanins. Additionally, higher nutrient use efficiency and soluble solids were observed in Festival.  In North Carolina, organic high tunnel cultivar trials were conducted. At Greensboro, Radiance had the highest yield, though not statistically higher than Benecia, Chandler, San Andreas, and WinterstarTM; whereas at Goldsboro, yields of the 10 cultivars evaluated were not statistically different. At least seven North Carolina growers will grow organically managed strawberries using high tunnels this fall. Fifty-eight strawberry growers were trained on how to identify spotted wing drosophila and how to recognize infested fruit. Results of 825 survey responses indicate that customers who identify as local, farmers market, organic, or CSA consumers care less about color, freshness, dryness, price, firmness and flavor, but care more about other attributes such as container size, shape, aroma, product origin, production methods and cultivar. Participants in grower assessments provided recommendations and suggestions for future organic strawberry research and prioritized future research objectives such as expanding research on integrated and long-term research on cover crops, strawberry cultivars, disease and pest management, and consumer preferences research. Five of the grower-participants committed to serving as advisors for future projects. This NSSI project has provided sufficient information to warrant further efforts towards holistic research of organic strawberry breeding and selection, nutrient and water management, and disease and pest control for long-term environmental and economic sustainability. As a result of this project, project leaders were awarded a grant from the USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative to continue this work to improve sustainable organic strawberry production in the Southeast.

Project Photos