Grants Awarded for Projects to Improve Strawberry Sustainability

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Projects from several states and $2.64 million in grants will add up to more sustainable strawberries for U.S. consumers, the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability (CARS) announced Wednesday, May 29, during the last week of National Strawberry Month.

The grant awards are part of a $3 million donation made in February by the Walmart Foundation to the Division of Agriculture. The competitive grants program, administered by CARS, attracted 56 proposals from agricultural research and extension personnel at land-grant public universities in 29 states.

As part of the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative grant recipients will have 12 months to complete their projects. CARS will release the project reports in September 2014.

“This grant project seeks to move the science and technology for alternative strawberry production systems and areas away from laboratories and experiment farms into the producers’ fields,” said Curt Rom, professor of horticulture in the Division of Agriculture and member of the CARS leadership team.

“The goal is to increase local and regional production of strawberries, to reduce the environmental impact of production, to reduce transportation distances between farms and markets or consumers, to reduce product loss in the supply-value chain and improve the environmental and economic sustainability of the production system. It will make significant local and regional impacts,” Rom said. “Upon completion of these projects, we will have a foundation for improving the sustainability of the U.S. strawberry production system through the supply chain, from growers to consumers.”

The following projects and team leaders were among those that were selected for grant funding support:

  • Elena Garcia, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, “Revitalizing Strawberry Production in Arkansas and the Surrounding Region via Extended Season Production Systems.” The project team will demonstrate the practical application of technologies and methods in three Arkansas locations and conduct outreach activities for commercial and potential growers, county extension agents, agricultural professionals and Master Gardeners. Participation in these activities will provide a greater awareness of sustainable practices, risks associated with food safety and the economics of different season extension systems and cultural practices.
  • Leonard Githinji, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, “Establishing and Expanding Sustainable Strawberry Production in Eastern Arkansas and Surrounding Areas.” Extensive outreach and education including hands-on exercises and demonstrations on sustainable strawberry production will be conducted across the Delta region of Arkansas . Project activities will include five sustainable strawberry production workshops and the creation of three demonstration sites with high tunnels, row covers, plastic mulch, and drip irrigation systems.
  • Michelle Schroeder-Moreno, North Carolina State University, “Sustainable Soil Management Practices for Strawberries: Evaluation of Individual and Integrated Approaches.” The project will generate information regarding the impact of compost, cover crops, and soil inoclulants on strawberry production. How these additions influence marketable fruit yield will lead to improved soil management recommendations for how strawberries can be produced sustainably.
  • Chieri Kubota, University of Arizona, “Sustainable Off-Season Production of High-Quality Hydroponic Strawberry in Desert Southwest.” The project’s goal is to establish sustainable off-season hydroponic strawberry production in the desert Southwest where there is practically no commercial production of strawberries, but there are strong greenhouse industries. This greenhouse industry is experiencing increasing pressure for product diversification due to the aggressive price competition for tomatoes.
  • Ganti Murthy, Oregon State University, “Creating Life Cycle Inventory Datasets to Support Meaningful and Constructive Strawberry Production Sustainability Metrics.” The project’s results will have lasting impacts on the industry by disseminating environmental data and metrics that can be used for continuous improvement in strawberry production and ensuring international market access for strawberry products with information that fairly and accurately represents United States agriculture.
  • Ruijun Qin, University of California, “Optimizing Fumigation Rate, Application Depth, and Plastic Mulch Use for Strawberry Production in Raised-Bed Systems.” The goal of the project is to develop effective field fumigation strategies including application depths and rates under three films for increased fumigation efficiency, improved pest control, high strawberry yield and reduced fumigant input.
  • Ellen Paparozzi, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “Winter Production of Nebraska Strawberries: An Idea Whose Time Has Come.” The university’s strawberry team has developed low cost, sustainable methods for growers to produce strawberries in a winter greenhouse. The team is proposing an experimental project to develop and compare a real-time, commercial strawberry production system with a scientifically monitored prototype production system.
  • Suping Zhou, Tennessee State University, “Developing the Logistics for Producing Human Pathogen-free Organic Strawberries in the State of Tennessee.” Outcomes of this project include promoting organic strawberry production by setting up demonstration farms in four major strawberry counties in Middle Tennessee, developing a safe production and consumption environment for fresh strawberries by defining the status of potential human pathogen contamination, and developing an easy-to-use tool to detect human pathogens on fresh strawberries.
  • Cary Rivard, Kansas State University, “Development and Adoption of Annual, Plasticulture Strawberry Production in the Great Plains.” The project’s goal is to design a production system that is less prone to crop failures, provides a more stable income stream, and encourages new growers to enter the industry. It will also develop knowledge related to frost protection and provide an alternative to overhead irrigation for frost protection, which is costly and uses valuable water and fuel resources.
  • Jeffrey Brecht, University of Florida, “Reducing Strawberry Waste and Losses in the Postharvest Supply Chain via Intelligent Distribution Management.” The team will conduct in-store consumer evaluations to document how likely consumers will be to purchase strawberries from various lot and handling scenarios. The team expects to show that a distribution system based on quality and projected shelf life compared to current practice will lead to less post-harvest loss and greater customer satisfaction.
  • Oleg Daugovish, University of California Cooperative Extension, “Placement of Additional Drip Lines to Enhance Soil Fumigation and Irrigation Efficiency and Minimize Environmental Impacts.” Previous research has shown that doubling the number of drip lines with proper placement can significantly improve fumigation efficacy, establish plants with less water use and eliminate runoff and associated environmental pollution. The team will demonstrate how drip line management can save water, reduce fumigant use, prevent runoff, decrease pollution, and improve pathogen and weed management.
  • Thomas Gordon, University of California at Davis, “Sustainable Strawberry Production in the Absence of Soil Fumigation.” The purpose of this project is to evaluate a wide range of strawberry cultivars and the use of compost in non-fumigated soil in three different California geographic regions. The performance of strawberry cultivars will be evaluated by measuring yield and fungal damage. The results of this project will help to guide growers in selection of cultivars and the use of compost to optimize production.
  • Emily Hoover, University of Minnesota, “Development of a Comprehensive, Engaging E-Learning Tool for Strawberry Farmers.” The team plans to develop an e-learning tool that will expand strawberry production using interactive multimedia to educate farmers on season extension and the use of June-bearing cultivars. The team will introduce innovative marketing techniques and resources to ensure locally-grown strawberries reach as many consumers as possible. This tool will be optimized for desktop and mobile devices, using some of the latest techniques in easy-to-use, engaging web-based educational programming.
  • Peter Nitzsche, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, “Improved Variety Selection and Sustainability of Strawberries for the Eastern United States.” This project has the potential to expedite the evaluation of strawberry breeding selections by utilizing farmer and consumer input to provide for a more rapid release and commercialization of improved cultivars for eastern U.S. growers and consumers. This project will test larger scale propagation and distribution of advanced selections, with goals of increasing production, improving profitability of local farms, and increasing the availability of high quality fruit.
  • Jeremy Pattison, North Carolina State University, “Strawberry Grower Education and Adoption of Research Innovations: Technology Transfer of Production Recommendations.” The team has developed a fall growing degree day (GDD) model that is ready for industry transfer to be used by strawberry growers to maximize yields and stabilize variation across years and locations. It plans to launch a technology transfer phase to engage growers and extension agents across North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia to test and validate the GDD model.
  • Carlene Chase, University of Florida, “Organic Open-field and High Tunnel Strawberry Cropping Systems for Long-term Viability of the Southeastern Industry.” The project will develop open-field and high tunnel organic strawberry cropping systems that are more environmentally and economically sustainable and are resilient to weeds, pests, and diseases. The team will select and promote strawberry cultivars specifically for organic systems and determine consumer preference and willingness to pay for strawberries with different sustainability attributes.
  • Russell Wallace, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, “Revitalization of Texas Strawberry Industry Through Identification of Production Constraints and Introduction of New Technologies.” The project will launch a statewide collaborative effort to address grower, retailer and consumer concerns through extension programming and a series of surveys and research. The team will coalesce these efforts into a sustainable production booklet to enhance production within Texas. This project will provide opportunities for multiple, regionally-based strawberry production conferences and trainings that will inform and demonstrate sustainable production techniques.

Strawberries rank as the fifth most popular consumed fresh fruit product in the U.S., which produces 27 percent of the world supply. California and Florida currently account for 98 percent of the nation’s strawberry production.

CARS is composed of Division of Agriculture faculty from multiple disciplines and focuses on enhancing economic, social and ecological prosperity for rural communities around the world. Established in 2007, CARS’s work includes developing tools for farmers in the U.S. and around the world that can predict greenhouse gas impacts in livestock operations, researching and teaching production methods that improve water quality and quantity, and enabling farms to provide healthy and safe produce.

Additional information about the projects is available at the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative website at


Curt Rom, professor, dept. of horticulture
Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station

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