This post is the first in a series of stories about the growers who participated in and were impacted by the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative.
Written by Debby Wechsler
Ian Greene – Production R&D Manager, Pacific Berry Farms
Project: Sustainable Strawberry Production in the Absence of Soil Fumigation
Thomas Gordon, University of California at Davis with graduate student Margaret Lloyd
Ian Green is a Research Agronomist for Pacific Berry Farms, which manages 1,200 acres of strawberry production throughout California under contract to various shippers, including Earthbound Farms. When Ian was contacted by graduate student researcher Margaret Lloyd, he knew that both Pacific Berry Farms and Earthbound Farms would be glad to cooperate. “Research by the University of California makes a big difference to the strawberry industry,” says Ian, and he was already impressed by the work that both Margaret and project leader Thomas Gordon were doing with compost in strawberries.
The site chosen for this field study was the Hayes Organic Ranch located in Watsonville, a 25 acre organic farm that grows strawberries for Earthbound Farms.Ian and farm employees worked with Margaret to evaluate four commercial composts including manure compost, yard trimmings compost, spent mushroom compost, and vermicompost. The compost treatments were applied in four randomized replications before strawberry beds were shaped and covered in plastic. Strawberry cultivars Albion and Chandler were grown in the research plots under the same production practices as the rest of the field.
The researchers provided scales, record books, and a weighing table, and Ian was responsible for making sure the berries were picked in a timely way, that yield data was collected for each plot at each picking, and that the data was sent to the Margaret Lloyd weekly. He also had to assure the cooperation of field supervisors; since they are focused on harvesting berries efficiently, having a research planting within a field can slow them down. “We had two workers who were assigned and trained to pick the research plots and collect the data,” says Ian, “and we worked it out that these workers were allowed to pick slower but got the same rate of pay as if they were doing piece work like everyone else.” The farm was then able to sell the research berries along with the rest of their harvest.
Ian estimates that the cost to Pacific Berry Farms for his time and to Earthbound Farms for the extra labor was close to $6,000. “It was a lot of work but we felt that if there was good information to come out of it, we wanted to be part of it. It’s a win-win arrangement for everyone.” He expects his farms to continue to be involved in this kind of research. “We are interested in two things—yield and quality—and will be watching for results that show best results most economically,” says Ian.
You can see results from this study here.