Dr. Jeremy Pattison, strawberry breeder and geneticist with the N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute at the N.C. Research Campus, recently was awarded a $158,391 grant from the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative, and is a co-investigator on a second grant in the amount of $127,168, led by Dr. Brian Whipker, also with N.C. State. The grants will support work in transferring the latest research to strawberry growers in North and South Carolina and Virginia to maximize yields and profitability.
Pattison recently completed a comprehensive research program that has developed a fall growing degree day model. Pattison has extensively tested the new production practices at N.C. State University and N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services research stations across the state. “They show great potential to increase marketable yield, season length and stability,” he explained. “This grant will help us more effectively provide training and technology transfer to growers.”
In addition to the latest research, new technologies and tools will be shared with growers. Pattison cited a cost-effective, energy-efficient cooling system that was recently developed for use by small to medium-sized growers to increase fruit quality and reduce postharvest product loss. Another aspect of the project will focus on educating growers about the updated comprehensive strawberry plasticulture farm budget designed to help growers better manage financial resources.
“Small growers, in particular, need inexpensive and energy-efficient cooling systems while all growers are looking to improve fruit quality management,” he explained. “In addition, we want to help growers mitigate financial risks by demonstrating the economic impacts of production improvements.”
Working with Pattison on this National Strawberry Initiative Grant are Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie, postharvest physiologist; Jonathan Baros, farm management Extension associate; and Leah Chester-Davis, communications and outreach coordinator. All are with the Plants for Human Health Institute. Both Pattison and Perkins-Veazie are also members of the Department of Horticultural Science. The project will also include Cooperative Extension faculty from North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia Tech and a representative from Lassen Canyon Nursery, one of the premier strawberry nurseries in the world.
The strawberry industry value in the three states – North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia – is about $48 million. North Carolina’s industry value is $29.4 annually. Strawberries are the fifth most consumed fruit in the United States and their popularity in terms of national consumption has increased by 51 percent the last 10 years.
According to Pattison, North Carolina and the surrounding region is well positioned to supply the current increases in consumer demand, but success is dependent on satisfying all participants in the supply chain such as regional chain stores.
“Because our relatively short season often limits access to larger, local markets, we believe production improvements and other strategies to maximize fruit quality and postharvest stability are needed to increase the presence of local fruit in major markets,” said Pattison.
The other project with Dr. Whipker is a strawberry diagnostics tool that strawberry growers can access with their computer, tablet or smart phone. It will help ensure that growers and others have real-time access to the broad spectrum of N.C. State research and knowledge relevant to all aspects of strawberry production.
One other N.C. State project on strawberries, out of 18 nationwide, was funded. Dr. Michelle Schroeder-Moreno received $78,034 for a project on the impact of compost, cover crops and soil inoculants on strawberry production and how they influence marketable fruit yield. The project is expected to lead to improved soil recommendations for how strawberries can be produced sustainably.
These projects are funded by a grant from the Walmart Foundation and administered by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability (CARS). According to CARS, funded projects will result in more sustainable strawberries for U.S. consumers. The grant awards are part of a $3 million donation made by the Walmart Foundation.
“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 Dr. Curt Rom, a 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.”