Farmers to learn how to produce strawberries earlier, extend season
Strawberry growers can learn about a new production method taught by an Ohio State University Extension specialist who can help them grow larger, sweeter strawberries that can be harvested in early May and well into fall.
With plasticulture, farmers can now grow strawberries that have better commercial attributes, including larger fruit size, higher sugar contents and better disease resistance, and can be harvested as early as the first week of May and as late as October. That’s according to results of an ongoing OSU Extension research trial conducted by horticulture specialist Brad Bergefurd 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 of September on a raised bed of soil covered with black plastic, which keeps the soil warm and suppresses weed growth. That results in farmers getting the berries to market at least a month earlier than the traditional matted row production, Bergefurd said.
The new method allows farmers to capture a larger share of the local strawberry market because the berries can be harvested and sold over 4-5 months, compared with the 4-5-week harvest period for Ohio strawberries using the matted row method, he said.
The event also will cover:
* Variety selection.
* 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,” Bergefurd 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 until October, depending on the weather, he said.
But Bergefurd cautioned that there are drawbacks to the plasticulture method.
While plasticulture cuts down on the amount of water, fertilizer and pesticides needed, the initial input costs are significantly higher. They require 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 with an average of $4,000 per acre in production costs with matted row production 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 with 10,000 to 15,000 pounds using the matted row method. Considering 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 firstname.lastname@example.org by May 16. Registration is $5 per person. Participants should be prepared to walk in fields, weather permitting. Needs for special accommodations should be mentioned when registering.
For more information on the plasticulture method or to view past years’ field research results, visit http://southcenters.osu.edu/horticulture/