Farmers to Learn New Strawberry Production Method that Creates Earlier and Longer Harvest

May 11, 2012

PIKETON, Ohio – Strawberry growers can learn about a new production method taught by an Ohio State University Extension specialist that can help them grow larger, sweeter strawberries that can be harvested in early May and well into fall. 

Thanks to a new production method called plasticulture, farmers can now grow strawberries that have better commercial attributes, including larger fruit size, higher sugar contents and better disease resistance, and that can be harvested as early as the first week of May and as late as October. That’s according to the results of an ongoing OSU Extension research trial conducted by Brad Bergefurd, an OSU Extension horticulture specialist in partnership with the Ohio Vegetable and Small Fruit Research and Development Program.

Bergefurd will conduct a Strawberry Field Night on May 17 from 6-9 p.m. at the OSU South Centers, 1864 Shyville Road, in Piketon. The program will teach participants all they need to know about the method, in which strawberries are planted in early fall on a raised bed of soil covered with black plastic and results in farmers getting the berries to market at least a month earlier than the traditional matted row production that has been used by Ohio farmers, Bergefurd said.

The new method, in which the strawberries are planted in September and grow over the winter using plastic to keep the soil warm and suppress weed growth, not only results in larger, sweeter berries but also allows farmers to capture a larger share of the local strawberry market because the berries can be harvested and sold over a period of four to five months, he said.

That compares to the four- to five-week harvest period for Ohio strawberries using the traditional matted row production method, Bergefurd said.

The event will cover the following: 

  •          Variety selection.
  •          Annual plasticulture strawberry production method.
  •          Row cover management for winter and frost protection.
  •         Summer-bearing variety production method, which can set fruit and be harvested from July through October. 

“Participants will learn production tips including education on planting dates, variety selection, fertility, winter protection, row cover management and overall management,” he said. “We’ll also discuss pest, weed and disease control options that would emphasize the use of Integrated Pest Management scouting techniques and chemical and non-chemical control options as well as production techniques to reduce pests.” 

The OSU Extension plasticulture trial includes about a half an acre of strawberry plants at the OSU South Centers and about 100 acres total on at least 25 farms statewide this season. The trial includes evaluating new strawberry varieties, with breeding coming from Florida, California, and North and South Carolina, Bergefurd said.

The method includes using row covers during the winter to protect the plants, which aren’t as winter hardy, from frost and freeze.

The trial, which is in its 11th season and has begun harvesting this week, is now producing the higher-quality, more commercially appealing berries, Bergefurd said. The trial will also, for the first time, produce summer-bearing fruit to allow the strawberry harvesting season to extend up until October, depending on the weather, he said.

But there are drawbacks to the plasticulture method, he cautioned.

While plasticulture cuts down on the amount of water, fertilizer and pesticides needed, the initial input costs for farmers using this method are significantly increased, requiring an investment of at least $10,000 to $15,000 per acre, with some of that cost associated with irrigation and more management needed to grow the fields, Bergefurd said. The fields harvest from early May to October.

That compares to traditional matted row production, which averages about $4,000 per acre in production costs and harvests in June, he said.

But plasticulture strawberries have the potential to yield 20,000 to 25,000 pounds of strawberries per acre, compared to 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of strawberries per acre using the matted row method. And when you consider that retail strawberries fetch $2.50 to $3.50 per pound, the profit potential is “pretty good,” Bergefurd said.

To register for the event, contact Julie Moose at 740-289-2071 ext. 223, or email her at moose.14@osu.edu by May 16. Registration is $5 per person. Participants should be prepared to walk in the fields, weather permitting. Special accommodations needs should be mentioned when registering.

For more information on the plasticulture strawberry growing method or to view past years’ field research results, visit http://southcenters.osu.edu/horticulture/.

Author(s): 
Tracy Turner
Source(s): 
Brad Bergefurd