Arkansas looks at winter strawberry production under tunnels

08/27/2013 01:07:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

high tunnel strawberry productionCourtesy University of ArkansasHorticulture technician David Dickey with the University of Arkansas checks the berries in a high tunnel used for research in Fayetteville.Locally grown strawberries during the Mid-South winter may become a reality, thanks to research being conducted in hoop houses by the University of Arkansas.

The work, led by Extension fruit and nut specialist Elena Garcia, is one of 18 projects nationwide funded by grants from the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative, according to a news release.

The berries are planted in September and fruit production begins in late November.

Production continues throughout the winter until early spring.

"In Fayetteville there are some winter markets, so people that are doing this could easily sell their berries for much higher prices than what the supermarkets are selling them for," Garcia said in the release.

The timing also coincides with when Arkansas farmers are ramping up outdoor strawberry production.

The high tunnels, also known as hoop houses, involve an arched frame over which plastic has been stretched.

Costs run about $20,000 to $25,000 per acre to build them, but they can be used over several seasons.

The structures deflect wind and trap warmth, providing passive heat for strawberry plants.

Row covers can be used to further protect the plants during cold snaps.

During the 2011-12 season, yields from the high-tunnels were about one third more than outside production.

What excites Garcia is the berries have better flavor than fruit coming from California or Florida during the winter months.

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