Jul 25, 2016
Web tool saves money for strawberry growers in several states

A UF/IFAS-developed web tool – which has been shown to save Florida strawberry growers $1.7 million a year – is now being used in several other states, including Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina and California.

Florida’s strawberry crop is worth $300 million a year. It’s also important to the national economy. For example, in 2014, the United States produced 3 billion pounds of strawberries, valued at nearly $2.9 billion, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Florida ranks second to California in strawberry production.

While gaining a foothold in other states, the tool is getting more useful, thanks to work by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers. Scientists have found a promising model to simulate leaf wetness in plants of strawberries.

The validated UF/IFAS leaf-wetness model could help scientists be more precise in their suggestions for the best times for growers to spray strawberries for disease protection. The model showed promise in recent trials, said Clyde Fraisse, a UF/IFAS associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering.

In 2012, Fraisse and Natalia Peres, a UF/IFAS associate professor of plant pathology, developed the computer tool, known as the Strawberry Advisory System.

Before the system was developed, strawberry farmers traditionally sprayed weekly during the November-to-March growing season. Spraying more often than needed wastes money and can lead to fungicide resistance, said Peres, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, Florida.

With SAS, UF/IFAS scientists calculate the strawberries’ disease risk every 15 minutes, based on data from weather stations, Fraisse said.

SAS tells farmers when to use chemical treatments on their strawberries to ward off diseases like botrytis and anthracnose. Normally, scientists see leaf wetness and temperature in weather stations and use those observations as input for SAS. But sometimes leaf wetness sensors fail, Fraisse said.

“Even if the sensors for leaf wetness are installed in a station, many times, they are not reliable,” Fraisse said. That’s why they conducted this study: to model leaf wetness based on other variables, such as temperature, relative humidity, wind and other factors.

Growers can use the system by logging onto www.agroclimate.org/tools/strawberry, or use the website to sign up for email or text alerts.

The new study is published online in the International Journal of Biometeorology,http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00484-016-1165-4.

Brad Buck, University of Florida

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