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New strawberry farming method leads to increased yield

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Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
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Looking for the best way to grow sweet, fresh strawberries? Dr. Shahrokh Khanizadeh, from the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu Research and Development Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)'s, research may help you get one step closer to greening your thumb.

Many factors affect strawberry yield and quality including the way they are grown. Different methods play an important role in strawberry growth which ultimately affects the size, yield, quality of nutrients, and even how long the berries last in your fridge.

Meander in any strawberry field in Canada and you often see mats of straw laid amongst long rows of strawberry plants. While this way of growing strawberries, also called matted row system, is inexpensive and easy, fruit tend to rot more frequently, fertilizers leach and it is not an easy way to harvest the sweet strawberries that Canadians love.

Dr. Khanizadeh thought that there may be a better way to grow strawberries, so he compared this method against two others: plastic mulch and plastic mulch with row covers. The fruit was evaluated at different harvest times for yield, weight, acidity, and firmness.

In the end, plastic mulch with row covers came out on top. When using this system there was reduced fruit weight loss and juice leakage, increased anti-oxidants and polyphenols (compounds often claimed to possess anti-cancer properties), less grey mould, larger, glossier berries and they lasted longer in the fridge as compared to the other two methods. Not only that, but fruit ripened more quickly so grocery stores could sell them earlier in the season.

The research suggests that row covers help the fruit grow because the covers modify the air and soil, encouraging the roots to grow stronger. The discovery that plastic mulch with row covers greatly improves strawberry production is a significant find for Canadian strawberry growers.

"Our results can provide useful insight to growers in north cooler climate because plastic mulch with row covers not only accelerates strawberry fruit ripening but also improves fruit quality by improving nutritional value."

- Dr. Shahrokh Khanizadeh, Research Scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

These advantages may also lead to higher profits for growers because it allows for off-season fruit production and easier operation.  This will contribute even greater profits for a fruit that is increasing in popularity. According to Statistics Canada, the farm gate value of strawberries has risen from $70,826,000 in 2012 to $99,271,000 in 2016. International demand for strawberries has increased over the years, too, leading to almost 100 more tonnes on average exported to international markets. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate how new production methods can give customers what they want while producers earn greater profits.

Key discoveries (benefits)

Photo gallery

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Matted row system, where strawberries are planted between rows of straw.  This system is commonly used in cool climates.
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Strawberries are planted in black plastic rows with mulch on either side also called plastic mulch system.
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The plastic mulch with row covers system yields the best strawberries.  In this system, strawberries are planted in rows covered in plastic. Mulch is applied between rows and a plastic tent is constructed over the rows.

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