On-Farm Performance and Nutrient Requirements of New Strawberry Varieties for the Eastern United States
- Peter Nitzche, Rutgers University, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station
- William Hubik, Rutgers University, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station
Mathew Millburn, Rutgers University, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station
- Daniel Ward, Rutgers University, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station
- Beverly Tepper, Rutgers University, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station
- Timothy Nourse, Nourse Farms Inc., South Deerfield, MA
- Robert Swanekamp, Kube-Pak Corp., Allentown, NJ
- David Handley, University of Maine
- Kathleen Demchak, Pennsylvania State University
- Michael Newell, University of Maryland
- Vance Whitaker, University of Florida
Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) has responded to Eastern U.S. strawberry growers' call for improved varieties for increased product value and economic returns by investing in a strawberry breeding program prioritizing flavor. Several selections of the Rutgers breeding program have been identified for potential patenting and release. Through NSSI Phase I project successes, three selections were patented and two were licensed to commerical nurseries, including Rutgers ScarletTM. The focus of the NSSI Phase II project was to continue the effort to expedite the release of Rutgers-bred strawberry selections by working with 13 growers in on-farm evaluations of Rutgers-bred selections and commercial cultivars. Strawberries were tested on organic and conventional farms and in plasticulture and matted row systems. Replicated research trials at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Pennsylvania State University, University of Maryland, University of Maine and University of Florida complimented the on-farm evaluation to offer statistically robust data and to test the selections geographically. Another important area of this project examined the nutritional needs of the strawberry selections and the impact on yield and fruit quality, and a commitment to work with growers on plant nutrition management. Two commercial nurseries involved in the project offered the newly patented and released Rutgers ScarletTM plants in 2015 and sold out of plants.
Project Outputs and Impacts
The project received a significant amount of media coverage with the release of Rutgers Scarlet,TM reaching and increasing the awareness of an estimated 3.9 million people. This led to significant interest among consumers for Rutgers ScarletTM and for locally grown strawberries. A local brewery even made a special strawberry beer by infusing Rutgers Scarlet fruit into the ale. Strawberry growers noted the increased sales and enthusiasm for local strawberries and had customers specifically asking for the new variety. Stephen Specca, one of the collaborating growers, commented, "Once [customers] came out and saw all of the crops we were growing, and experienced the taste of a fresh picked strawberry, they were hooked." Several growers commented that the Philadelphia Inquirer article boosted early spring sales, increasing profits by 10 to 20 percent in the early season. In addition to the hands-on experience of producing and observing the advance selections that 13 growers gained, nine of them also learned about tissue testing for nutrient status of their strawberry crop and were able to improve their fertility management. Nourse Farms Inc. and Kube Pak Corp, two commercial nurseries, sold out of Rutgers Scarlet strawberry in 2015. Nourse Farms sold over 100,000 plants to 22 states. Through on-farm twilight meetings led by project leaders, 154 farmers and industry professionals increased their knowledge of the new strawberry selection, in addition to tasting the fruit. More than 500 farmers, 100 Extension educators and 270 master gardeners learned about the project and the strawberry selections through presentations at conferences and workshops, tours, twilight meetings, and interviews. This project also provided the opportunity for 10 university students to gain skills and expertise in various aspects of strawberry production and fruit analysis. Because of this experience some of the students have considered graduate school in horticulture.