Cold Climate Strawberry Farming E-Book

This blog post highlights the work of the NSSI project titled “Development of a Comprehensive, Engaging E-Learning Tool for Strawberry Farmers” led by Dr. Emily Hoover of the University of Minnesota

By Echo Martin, University of Minnesota

Where do farmers go to discover new techniques and information? In the past it was to conferences or other farmers, but more commonly today the first place people turn to is the internet. Many great outreach resources are available online, but sometimes navigation can be difficult and some articles are up to date, while others are a decade old. Additionally, the information can be difficult to access in the field if it’s not on a mobile website or isn’t downloadable.

Our team of University of Minnesota researchers, in partnership with Minnesota Grown and a few experienced farmers, decided to remedy this by creating an interactive guide for growing and selling strawberries in cold climates. Not only did we want this guide be an up-to-date resource with all the information easily accessible in one place, but it was vital that it be accessible both online and on the most common handheld devices. We chose to use a new online authorirng program, Inkling Habitat, to create the e-book. This program allowed us to address the major problems listed above as well as include a variety of interactive features that would enhance learning.

Some of the features included popup definitions and guided tours.

Some of the features included popup definitions and guided tours.

For the first half of the project, our interdisciplinary team worked to design and produce an e-book that is easy for users to read and understand, with beautiful pictures and instructional video that reinforces the text.

We partnered with Instructional and Media Technologies at the University of Minnesota Morris to ensure we had professional level video and images.

We partnered with Instructional and Media Technologies at the University of Minnesota Morris to ensure we had professional level video and images.

We wanted to ensure that this guide would be highly useful to farmers once it was released. With the first draft of the e-book finished, we wanted to determine which topics needed more information and if any areas needed to be presented more clearly. To accomplish this, we conducted a focus group in January at the MFVGA conference and another at the MOSES Organic Conference at the beginning of March, making edits to the e-book in between.

The small focus groups allowed us to get in-depth comments and suggestions.

The small focus groups allowed us to get in-depth comments and suggestions.

Overall, the reviews at the focus group sessions were resoundingly positive. We got feedback from a variety of farmers, some who had been growing strawberries for 20 years and others who were only considering growing strawberries. While there were some changes needed, nearly half of the focus group participants requested to be notified when the e-book was released so that they could read the entire thing.Several participated in multiple focus groups so they could read additional chapters. You can see several of the focus group comments in our YouTube trailer.

The e-book has a variety of color-coded notes and easy to follow text and picture guides.

The e-book has a variety of color-coded notes and easy to follow text and picture guides.

The e-book was released to the public in early August. It goes into detail on important topics such as choosing your market, innovative marketing techniques, comprehensive cultivar recommendations, insurance requirements and other essential business info, along with best practices for growing strawberries. Cold Climate Strawberry Farming also introduces a new, season-extending method of growing strawberries for cold climates using low tunnels and day-neutral cultivars.

The cover of Cold Climate Strawberry Farming

The cover of Cold Climate Strawberry Farming

All content is based on years of research at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Grown, and can be viewed online on the computer or downloaded for offline use to any iOS or Android mobile device. You can download it for free and explore it yourself on Inkling.com.

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Phase I Final Reports Due Next Week

Phase I is nearing completion and project leaders are reminded that final reports are due next week on August 15th. Thank you for your hard work, and we look forward to reading about what you discovered in the push for sustainable strawberries.

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Hydroponic Strawberry YouTube Channel

Commercial growers now have free access to hydroponic strawberry start-up advice on YouTube, thanks to NSSI researchers. This collaboration between projects at the University of Arkansas and the University of Arizona demonstrates the mechanisms implemented on hydroponic and soilless setups at both locations.

The goal of this project was to provide a free portal to teach commercial strawberry growers how to build, manage, and use hydroponic systems in the production of strawberries. By using soilless and hydroponic systems to produce strawberries, growers are able to manage water and fertilizer more effectively. Additionally, many issues that are common in field-grown operations (soil sterilization/disinfestation, weed control, runoff) are eliminated.

You can view the Introduction video here.

The videos are each about 3-6.5 minutes in length and cover topics such as cultivar selection, fertilizer distribution equipment, pest and disease management, and harvesting.

Want to learn more about hydroponic strawberries? Then watch the rest of the videos at the project’s YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/sustainablehydro

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Walmart Foundation’s $1.05 Million Donation Fuels Second Phase of Strawberry Initiative

By Mary Hightower, U of A System Division of Agriculture

July 17, 2014

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Ripening in mid-winter. Taking root in old cotton acres. Growing organic in conventional farms. America’s favorite berry is finding itself in places it’s never been before thanks to research, creativity and a donation from the world’s largest retailer.

Each of these new directions was grown from a $3 million donation from the Walmart Foundation to the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Sustainability, known as CARS. Last year’s donation gave birth to the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative and would fuel 20 research projects in 13 states.

All of the innovations have one aim: to provide U.S. consumers with the freshest berries raised in the most sustainable way possible everywhere they’re grown, from small family farms to cooperatives. It’s no small target either. Strawberry production was valued at $2.4 billion in 2012, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. And USDA says they are the fifth favorite fruit among American consumers, prized for its sweet taste and good-for-you versatility in the kitchen.

“At Walmart we support the issues our customers and communities care about most –sustainability being one of them,” said Dorn Wenninger, Vice President of Produce and Floral, Walmart. “We’re excited to help the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative enter Phase II where we’ll see innovation at work in the fields. As a result, we’ll have a better understanding of how to sustainably increase production and supply of one of our nation’s favorite fruits.”

New donation, new phase

A new $1.05 million donation from the Walmart Foundation is providing fuel for some of the researchers to prove their concepts in the field. From a competitive grants process, six projects working in nine states emerged to share $845,000 in funding from the new donation.

“If last year’s work was all about exploration and innovation, Phase II moves the initiative ‘From Demonstration to Implementation’,” said Curt Rom, horticulture director for CARS.

In May, the project team members presented their research at a summit held at Fayetteville’s Chancellor Hotel.

“There was an obvious energy in the room with the reports and the conference created strong synergy among the cooperators,” Rom said. “This program has clearly made significant impacts that will continue to grow. I feel certain that we will see more, better, higher quality strawberries which have been sustainably produced locally, regionally, and nationally enter our markets.”

Learning from Phase I

Michelle Schroeder-Moreno, associate professor of Agroecology at North Carolina State University, has one of the six projects that are moving into the second phase. Her team is focused on sustainable soil and pest management, in part taking practices used in organic growing systems and using them in conventional berry growing.

“Phase II is what I’m really excited about. It’s not just doing the research, but also taking it into the adoption process,” she said. The first year’s project taught her team some key lessons. “We are learning from it. We’re not talking about traditional research – here’s a report for another journal. It’s ‘how do we make it usable. This is what we need to be doing more of.”

Taking a chance on berries

Russ Wallace, associate professor and extension horticulturist at Texas A&M, leads another of the six projects. His project works both ends of the strawberry spectrum in trying to increase the number of growers and encourage consumers to buy locally grown berries.

“Our Phase II project will add new growers willing to give strawberries a try on a small scale, and will also connect AgriLife Extension horticulture agents with growers in their counties to enable both the growers and the agent to gain experience growing strawberries,” he said.

Some of the new growers have turned cotton acreage into homes for high tunnels. “We’ll never replace cotton, but growers are looking for other ways to get cash,” Wallace said.

“Our eventual goal is to greatly increase our state’s current strawberry production acreage, now only at about 150 acres, to the point where we can all easily enjoy what could well become a uniquely Texas treat,” he said.

The phase II projects are:

  • “Sustainable Soil Management Practices for Strawberries: Diverse Approaches for Facilitating Adoption.” Awarded $103,784 in funding. Led by Michelle Schroeder-Moreno, assistant professor-North Carolina State University; and Amanda McWhirt, PhD student, NCSU.
  • “Implementing Low-Cost Wireless Sensor Networks for Irrigation, Nutrient Management and Frost Protection of Strawberry.” Awarded $150,000. Led by John Lea-Cox, professor, University of Maryland, Rouse, Schlagel.
  • “Growing Strawberries: A Public-Private Partnership.” Awarded $146,805. Led by Elena Garcia, Donn Johnson, Michael Evans, Kristen Gibson, Matt Sheckels, David Dickey, Clyde Fenton. This proposal addresses the growing interest in revitalizing the fruit industry in Arkansas, especially strawberry production in Washington and Boone County Arkansas. In phase I, Garcia used high tunnels to grow wintertime strawberries.
  • “Addressing Grower-Identified Priorities in Organic Strawberry Cropping Systems in the Southeastern US.” Awarded $200,000. Led by Carlene Chase, Michkie Swisher, Xin Zhao, Oscar Liburd, Zhifeng Gao, Sanjun Gu, Sambav, Marty Mesh. Florida and North Carolina. The goal of this multidisciplinary, integrated, research and extension project is to promote the expansion of organic strawberry production in the southeastern U.S.
  • “Increasing Grower Market Potential and Consumer Preference for Locally-Grown Strawberries through Strategic Extension Programming in Texas.” Funding: $92,267. Led by Team: Russ Wallace, Peter Ampim, Juan Anciso, Joe Masabni and Larry Stein. The proposed projects will not only help to determine whether small-acreage strawberry production can expand more widely across the state, but also determine whether growers are willing to take the risks of a new crop enterprise.
  • “On-Farm Performance and Nutrient Requirements of New Strawberry Varieties for the Eastern United States.” Awarded $125,000. Led by Peter Niztsche, William Hlubik, Butraigo, Handley, Demachak, Newell. Project covers New Jersey, Maryland, Maine, Pennsylvania.

Learn more about the National Sustainable Strawberry Initiative at http://strawberry.uark.edu.

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Phase I Quarterly Reports Due Next Week

This is a reminder to current NSSI Phase I projects that 4th Quarter Reports are due  on July 15. Please log in at http://ciids.org/cars/prop/ to update us on your work.

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