May 14, 2021
CEA in strawberry production advantages outlined

Strawberries are an important crop grown in the U.S. with a market value of more than $2.2 billion dollars, producing 1.12 million tons of strawberries in 2019.

Most production of strawberries in the U.S. is done in open fields. In the U.S., year-round production is achieved by shifting production between regions across California and Florida. Recently U.S. growers are confronting challenges in open field production. In California, where more than 90% of the total strawberry production is done, annual acreage for strawberries is getting lower due to prolonged drought periods in the field; also, dry weather is increasing pests, making it challenging to manage and control diseases (Green, 2014). Another challenge of U.S. production is the emergence of strong competitors in the strawberry market, Mexico and China.

Controlled environment structures and strategies using hydroponic systems in strawberry production could help to address the current challenges in U.S. open field production; additionally, due to the increase in consumer demand for locally grown products, local growers in the U.S. have notice the opportunity of achieving premium price during off-seasons by producing locally grown strawberries in greenhouses.

Greenhouse production can be an option to increase the strawberry production window in areas where we currently grow this crop. It can also be a system to use in order to increase overall production across the U.S. In addition, by managing the environment inside a greenhouse it is not only possible to increase production, but also quality.

Improving strawberry flavor inside greenhouses

Everyone loves strawberries. This crop is recognized by its distinctive flavor and aroma. However, strawberries in America are bred most of the time thinking in size, shape and shelf life. In order to produce tasty sweet strawberries, we need to pay close attention to different environmental variables that can be controlled inside of greenhouses such as temperature and rootzone.

Temperature can have a strong impact on strawberry flavor. Low temperature is recommended during time in order to improve flavor in strawberry. When night temperature increases exceeding 16-18°C (60-65°F), titratable acidity increases, reducing the sugar-acid ratio and affecting strawberry flavor. Therefore it is recommended to maintain night temperature between 10-12°C (50-54°F) in order to promote better brix levels on your fruit.

Strawberries can be sensitive to high salinity levels. When working with this crop we need to work on delivering the correct amount of nutrients. In comparison to other fruiting crops, strawberries need to grow in lower nutrient levels. Electrical conductivity should be maintained lower than 1 dS/m . If EC exceeds 1.2 dS/m  irrigation with water must be applied.  Despite recommendations in other fruiting crops regarding increasing EC in order to improve flavor. This is not a recommendation applicable to strawberries. High EC levels can cause salt stress and a negative effect on product yield and quality.

Strawberries are definitely not an easy crop and CEA technologies can always help us to provide ideal conditions to improve production window, yield per area and fruit quality. Growers are finding out the great benefits of growing strawberries using the help of CEA. This is the reason why now hydroponic greenhouse production of strawberries is growing rapidly across the U.S.

– Karla García, Hort Americas

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