Researcher explores strawberry production for south Texas

03/03/2014 10:14:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

click image to zoomJuan AncisoCourtesy Texas AgriLife ExtensionTexas AgriLife Extension fruit and vegetable specialist Juan Anciso checks on strawberries in a demonstration plot near Weslaco.Juan Anciso wants to make strawberries more of a mainstream crop in the subtropical south Texas Rio Grande Valley.

“Texas produces very few strawberries compared to the state’s tremendous market demands,” Anciso, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension fruit and vegetable specialist, said in a news release. “The idea is to produce more strawberries here, rather than importing from California or Mexico. The result could be an alternative profitable crop for Texas growers, while consumers enjoy a fresher, tastier product.”

But his efforts are proving tougher than expected.

For example, critters, such as opossums, raccoons and birds, have taken a liking to his crop and decimated the first planting. Fencing off the plots with chicken wire helped protect the second planting.

Anciso's originally scheduled Jan. 20 field day had to be postponed until March while the second crop comes into production.

His work is part of the Texas Strawberry Project, which also includes demonstrations in College Station, Lubbock and Uvalde.

Anciso's project also is being funded by a one-year grant from the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative, funded by the Walmart Foundation.

Each plot is being grown in an open field as well as under a high tunnel.

High tunnels, also known as hoop houses, resemble plastic-covered Quonset huts.

Growers typically use high tunnels to extend season, allowing them to plant earlier and harvest later than open fields.

But Anciso says the plants outside are doing better than inside the tunnels and are producing fruit, whereas the plants under the tunnels aren't producing yet.

Some of the fruit is deformed, which Anciso says could be the result of improper fertilization or plant hormones. That's an area that still needs to be perfected.

Powdery mildew also was a problem at one time, but three fungicide applications took care of that.

With continued research, he says he believes strawberries could be profitably grown in south Texas.

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