Research funded by the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative, through a $3 million Wal-Mart Foundation grant, is studying how Arkansas growers can grow the fruit during the winter in greenhouses and tunnels.
The University of Arkansas research shows strawberries grown in high tunnels during the winter can produce higher than break-even yields, according to a news release.
Researchers grew organic berries in four high tunnels or large hoop houses to provide solar heating.
The researchers worked with four strawberry cultivars, keeping the plants alive even as temperatures fell to -5 degrees fahrenheit, according to the release. During the past three years, researchers started harvesting in late November and early December, but because of the cold weather, this season’s production was delayed.
Other trials show using high tunnels, low tunnels and plastic mulch can extend the growing season. Those systems allow early planting of strawberry plugs which increase fruit yields and quality, as well as grower profitability, according to the release.
The university sponsored sustainable strawberry production workshops, field demonstrations and hands-on training.
“The overall goal is to establish and expand sustainable strawberry production in eastern Arkansas and surrounding areas,” Leonard Githinji, an extension horticulture specialist, said in the release. “In order to achieve this goal, we are conducting extensive outreach and education including hands-on training on several topics related to strawberry production and post-harvest technologies.”
Arkansas strawberry growers will soon have an online guide to show them how to grow soilless berries year-round.
The university plans to launch a YouTube channel featuring a series of how-to videos on winter strawberry production.
The objective is to walk growers through all the facets of the project, according to the release.
Videos for the demonstration project designed to help growers were filmed at greenhouses in Arkansas as well as in Arizona and Belgium.
Once edited, the university plans to upload the videos to bit.ly/1iXUbyO
The research is coordinated by the Fayetteville-based university’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability through the Wal-Mart grant.