Jan 21, 2021
Specialty crops grant funds Texas strawberry research

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has received a second Texas Department of Agriculture Specialty Crops Block Grant for the “Increasing Texas Strawberry Profitability” project.

The project is a statewide collaboration lead by AgriLife Extension’s Russ Wallace, horticulturist, Lubbock. The co-principal investigator is Thayne Montague, Texas Tech University associate professor of horticulture with joint appointment to Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Lubbock.

“We’re extremely excited about what we’ve learned thus far to successfully grow strawberries in Texas and increase profitability,” Wallace said. “This is the next step in our ongoing research where we’ll be doing more work with shading trials, fine-tuning fertilization and additional work with herbicides. We’re pleased that TDA considers strawberries an important crop for continued research funding.”

Wallace said AgriLife Extension county agents, Prairie View A&M University research scientists and Texas Tech graduate students are also assisting with the project. The grant runs through 2022.

Strawberry science

This work builds upon earlier research that was also funded by a TDA Specialty Crops Block Grant Program from Dec. 1, 2018.

“We had some great research success with that project including determining appropriate fertilizer rates by variety and weed management programs using herbicides,” Wallace said. “We also had success using low tunnels for northern climates to protect crop growth.”

Montague said a great dynamic can be created when researchers from different backgrounds collaborate on a project, and Wallace included experts from across Texas to investigate challenges strawberry growers may face no matter where they are growing their crop.

“For me, the really exciting part of this project is how several different universities and agencies – AgriLife Extension, AgriLife Research, Texas Tech University, Texas A&M University-Prairie View – and the Poteet Strawberry Festival Association and a number of growers will be collaborating,” Montague said.

Wallace said some of the interesting findings so far include which varieties improve or decrease yield based on fertilization rates and an increased understanding on which varieties are best suited for different growing environments in Texas.

“It’s exciting to see our work have real-world applications for our stakeholders — we now have the very first commercial strawberry producer in Lubbock County,” Wallace said. “He had 5,000 plants last year and planted 30,000 this year. To see him utilizing what we’ve learned so far and to be able to go out and see his fields is just wonderful.”

The grant also provides funding to help communicate information learned from the group’s experiments to Texas strawberry producers.

“Because funding for this grant is for very applied research, during and after the granting time period we will be holding a number of workshops, field days and training sessions online, and throughout the state,” Montague said. “Meeting with strawberry growers and presenting research data, which can directly help growers overcome their challenges is an important aspect of the grant.”

Different strawberry regions, needs

Commercial strawberries are grown in several regions throughout Texas.

“Each location, Lubbock, Arlington, Poteet, Houston, etc., has vastly different soils, climate and overall growing conditions,” Montague said. “One of the main challenges strawberry producers in Texas face is what particular strawberry variety may perform best in their specific location, and what management techniques will give them the greatest yields and highest quality fruit.”

Strawberry producers also need information on the amount of fertilizer needed for the maximum yield.

“Growers are concerned about fertilizer costs and reducing fertilizer runoff,” he said. “Water-use efficiency, yield of product produced/volume of water applied, is a critical part of agriculture. Growers need information on how to maximize yield but use less water. With the tools and techniques we have and the experiments funded by the grant, we hope to answer some of these questions.”

To assist growers, the project will investigate how several strawberry varieties perform in a number of growing locations. Wallace and Montague will try to determine the management techniques, low tunnels, shade cloth, planting dates, and other factors that will give Texas growers the fruit quality and yields they need to be profitable in each region.

“All our efforts are to help growers decrease costs and improve yield,” Wallace said.

Susan Himes, Texas A&M University

The ongoing research will include shading trials, fine-tuning of fertilization and work with herbicides. Photo: Getty Images

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