Winter production of strawberries bests break-even mark
- Severe winter was hard on the tunnels
- High tunnel research shows growers can achieve break-even
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Despite Arkansas’ winter of extremes, researchers with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture have shown strawberries grown in high tunnels during the winter can produce better-than-break-even yields.
Elena Garcia, extension fruit horticulture specialist, and Donn Johnson, entomologist working on fruits and nuts, conducted the research in one organic hoop house at Clarksville and three at Fayetteville. Their project was among 16 projects nationwide funded by a $3 million grant from the Walmart Foundation and administered by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability at the University of Arkansas.
The high tunnels are large hoop houses that provide passive solar heating and protection from the direct effects of cold and winter precipitation, which Arkansas had aplenty this year. The researchers had about one-third of an acre under each high tunnel.
“Our greatest success was keeping the plants alive,” Garcia said. “The extreme weather we have experienced in low temperatures down to minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit and high winds created a lot of problems.”
At one point in January, “the high wind speeds damaged a door of one of the tunnels and temperatures inside were 18 degrees Fahrenheit when discovered,” she said. “The blossoms and any fruit present were frozen. Luckily, the plant crowns – the part of the plant that is key to its survival – were not damaged. Seventeen degrees is a critical temperature for the crowns.”
In previous years, “we were yielding between 1.25 to 2 pounds per plant,” Garcia said. “Growers need to have at least one pound per plant to break even. However this production season has been delayed by approximately two months.”
The researchers worked with four different strawberry cultivars using the high tunnels and organic growing practices.
Garcia said that going forward, the researchers will investigate “low tunnels with plastics that reflect ultraviolet light. UV light is very important in the development of Botrytis, a fruit mold. We hypothesize a lower incidence of Botrytis with some of these plastics.”
“For the past three years, we have begun harvesting at the end of November or early December,” she said. “This year, that is not the case. This season, production has been delayed approximately two months.”
To learn more about this and other National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative programs, visit http://strawberry.uark.edu/.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
By Mary Hightower
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service