Growing Strawberries: A Public-Private Partnership
Contact: Elena Garcia, 479-575-2790, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Elena Garcia, University of Arkansas, Department of Horticulture
- Michael Evans, University of Arkansas, Department of Horticulture
- Donn Johnson, University of Arkansas, Department of Horticulture
- Kristen Gibson, University of Arkansas, Department of Food Sciences
- Clyde Fenton, Fenton's Berry Farm-Harrison, AR
- Mike McClintock, University of Arkansas, Cooperative Extension Service-Boone County
This project addressed the growing interest in revitalizing the fruit industry in Arkansas, especially strawberry production in Washington and Boone Counties. The project used a unique public-private partnership between the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, North Arkansas College in Harrison, and strawberry growers in Washington and Boone Counties. Through this partnership the project pursued functioning business enterprises producing and marketing strawberries and utilized a cooperative approach to transfer proven protected culture technologies to growers that were learned during Phase I NSSI projects.
Objectives of the project were to validate protected agriculture technologies for sustainable strawberry production in high tunnels, low tunnels, and hydroponic greenhouse systems; to demonstrate the integration of pest management using insect predators, exclusion netting, and other sustainable practices; to assess the food safety risk of strawberry production and develop a food safety checklist for each production system; and to validate the economic sustainability of the individual production systems.
Project Outputs and Impacts
This project hosted six strawberry production workshops throughout the state on a variety of topics including sustainable cultural practices, protected environments, insect management, disease management, and economic considerations, reaching more than 130 participants, including extension agents and growers. Demonstration production systems including high tunnels, low tunnels, and soilless greenhouse culture were designed and constructed to engage Extension agents, growers, and students in advanced strawberry production technology. A new low tunnel design was developed to pair strength with functionality and shared with other institutions to facilitate farmer adoption. Evaluations revealed that at least half of workshop participants planned to construct greenhouses and/or tunnels for strawberry production using the knowledge they gained and that several individuals were going to begin producing strawberries for the first time. An Interactive Sustainable Strawberry Budget tool was developed to help growers calculate costs and expected net returns for field or high tunnel strawberry production systems. This tool helps growers make sustainable management and production choices by accurately assessing risk and creating "what if" scenarios. Overall, this project equipped farmers with the technology and information needed to grow strawberries smarter and enabled extension agents and educators to continue to inform future growers about sustainable strawberry production in Arkansas and the surrounding area.