UF researchers work to develop organic strawberry growing methods

11/06/2013 03:43:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

USDA Organic SealA group of University of Florida researchers wants to develop new organic and sustainable growing methods to help Southeastern growers better compete with foreign imports.

The researchers, led by Carlene Chase, a horticulture professor, received one of two grants awarded UF teams by the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative.

Of the more than 7,000 strawberry acres in Florida, only about 1.5 percent are produced organically.

Much of what they learn also will be useful for conventional growers, according to a news release.

The research will take a systems approach rather than looking at one single component, such as weed control.

For example, horticulturist Xin Zhao, entomologist Oscar Liburd and Chase, a weed ecologist, will simultaneously test different strawberry cultivars and weed management strategies. They will study how those inputs affect the kinds and numbers of pests.

They also will take a holistic approach to both field and high-tunnel organic strawberry production in Florida and North Carolina.

Zhifeng Gao, an assistant economics professor, and Mickie Swisher of Family, Youth and Community Services, will focus on consumer preferences, including flavor, quality and price points.

they also will tap strawberry growers and industry representatives for input.

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