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Home HortScience Sustainable Strawberry Systems for Cold-climate Production
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BELTSVILLE, MD—To meet consumer demand, optimize output, and control costs while conserving and protecting the ecosystem, large-scale strawberry growers are looking for ways to create more sustainable production systems. Strawberries are a labor-intensive crop in which fruit production is closely tied to growers' ability to minimize weed, insect, and disease issues through pesticide use and/or cultural practices.

Growers in the mid-Atlantic and northeast United States have historically relied on the conventional matted row (CMR) system of strawberry production. According to Matthew D. Stevens, co-author of a new research study published in HortScience, strawberry growers have long recognized inefficiencies in CMR and have explored other production practices to improve efficiency and reduce labor requirements. "One system currently being explored is a cold-climate adaptation of the annual hill or plasticulture systems used in California and Florida," Stevens explained. "This system (called "cold-climate plasticulture" or CCP) may offer some benefits in improved yields and fruit quality, but the tradeoffs include increased establishment costs and greater risk for crop loss resulting from spring frost." To offset these higher costs and risks, the CCP system has relied on methyl bromide fumigation to maximize yields.

A third system called "advanced matted row" (AMR) uses raised beds and drip irrigation similar to the plasticulture system, but plants are managed like in CMR production and a cover crop serves as a mulch on the raised beds. "Trials using the AMR system have shown that the system has promise for a number of eastern varieties; however, an economic comparison of this system to the CMR or CCP is necessary to assess the economic viability of each system," Stevens said.

Stevens, along with scientists Brent Black, John Lea-Cox, and Dillon Feuz, tested the three production systems and compared them for horticultural and economic aspects of sustainability over a 3-year planting cycle. 'Allstar' strawberry was chosen for use in all systems because of the cultivar's ability to resist disease and its adaptability to different production systems. The team compared labor inputs, material costs, and marketable yields among the systems and developed crop budgets for each production system to compare relative profitability over the cycle.

The results showed that both the conventional matted row system and the advanced matted row system had higher management costs than the cold-climate plasticulture system as result of labor costs for weed control, but CCP showed a much higher cost for materials. Overall expenses were lowest for CMR and highest for AMR.

"Total input costs were lowest for the CMR system," Stevens said. "Total input costs were higher in the CCP system, mainly as a result of the high cost of plug plants. Total costs in the AMR system were higher as a result of relatively higher operational costs."

The CMR system had the highest estimated net return based on the total fruit yield over the length of the experiment followed next by AMR, with CCP having the lowest yield and lowest net return. "Based on our research from the 2003 and 2004 seasons, we found that CMR was the most economically sustainable of the three systems for the mid-Atlantic region," Stevens concluded.

The researchers noted that low yield and fruit size in the second year and high material costs for establishment limit the economic viability for CCP when managed as a perennial system.

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The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortScience electronic journal web site: http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/46/3/445

Founded in 1903, the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) is the largest organization dedicated to advancing all facets of horticultural research, education, and application. More information at ashs.org


 

Original Article:

Horticultural and Economic Considerations in the Sustainability of Three Cold-climate Strawberry Production Systems
Matthew D. Stevens, Brent L. Black, John D. Lea-Cox, and Dillon Feuz
HortScience 46:445–451. [Abstract] [Full Text] [PDF]

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