( File photo )

Tabletop strawberry production under high tunnels is being attempted on a limited scale in California’s Santa Maria growing district.

Surendra Dara, specialist with the University of California Cooperative Extension, said growers are exploring the concept of growing strawberries on tabletop beds of coconut fibers instead of on the ground.

The tabletop concept is used in Europe in greenhouses and can be adapted for outdoor use with the use of a high tunnel, he said.

“The main advantage is that it reduces the risk of soil borne diseases you might come across,” he said.

The growing method is expensive to construct, but it saves the cost of fumigating the soil or substrate.

In addition, with a tabletop setup, growers would have better control on nutrient injections and monitoring the crop.

Because the tabletops are elevated, harvest is more efficient and workers don’t have to stoop to pick the berries.

“Depending on how tall the person is, people can walk by the rows and pick the strawberries much faster,” he said.

“Farm workers feel better because they are standing.”

Eventually, the tabletop system may be more likely to work with robotic harvesters than current field operations, Dara said.

Growers first experimented with the growing method last year, and Dara said one grower reportedly put 40 acres into a tabletop system this year.

Some unanswered questions about the tabletop systems include cost of production compared with open field strawberries and how pest populations respond to the growing method, Dara said.