Q: What is being done to find alternatives to fumigant pesticides for strawberry production?
A: Millions of dollars have been spent by the California Strawberry Commission (CSC), California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), University of California, University of California Cooperative Extension and others on research to find a replacement for fumigants. To date, no equally effective replacement has been found, but research continues in earnest.
Q: What is the goal of the research?
A: Keeping the annual $2.4 billion strawberry industry viable in California by reducing reliance on and finding alternatives to fumigants that safely, effectively and economically manage soil-borne pests and diseases, which can devastate a strawberry crop.
Q: What is the California Strawberry Commission?
A: The California Strawberry Commission is a state government agency based in Santa Cruz County. The Commission was established by the California Legislature in 1993 and represents more than 400 strawberry family farmers in the state. With an emphasis on sustainable farming practices, the commission works with strategic partners to focus on production and nutrition research, food safety training and education, marketing and communications, trade relations and public policy. The commission is self-funded by California strawberry farmers through assessments on their crops – not tax dollars. The state’s strawberry farmers alone have invested more than $13 million, more than any farm group in the world, in search for solutions that control soil-borne pathogens without fumigants. For more information about the commission, please see http://www.calstrawberry.com/en-us/.
Q: Who is involved in the research?
A: In 2008, the growers recognized the need for long term, non-fumigant solutions, launching the Farming Without Fumigants research initiative. Commission research staff searched for current practices in other parts of the world that held potential for implementation in California. This initiative launched several new projects, including a new project with the agroecology program at the University of California Santa Cruz.
In 2012, CDPR convened the Non-Fumigant Strawberry Production Working Group, a diverse group of scientists and other specialists to develop a five-year action plan to accelerate the development of management tools and practices to control soil-borne pests in strawberry fields without fumigants. In April 2013, the Working Group released its Action Plan and established focus areas for research and priority action items for CDPR, the research community and the strawberry industry to pursue. The Action Plan identified the need for collaborative research to test combinations of alternatives in extensive field trials and on-farm demonstrations. Full implementation of the Action Plan recommendations requires a major commitment of time and resources by a broad range of groups in the private and public sectors. The Action Plan is posted at: http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/pestmgt/strawberry/work_group/action_plan.pdf.
In 2013, the California Strawberry Commission and Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, announced a three-year, $1 million partnership to establish the Cal Poly Strawberry Center to increase the sustainability of the California strawberry industry through research, including soil-borne disease issues and education that addresses industry needs. Research projects at the Strawberry Center are now funded through the commission’s annual request for proposals process, as well as competitive grants from other government sources. The commission also donates trucks and other used equipment to the program. More information about the Strawberry Center is posted at: http://strawberry.calpoly.edu/our-work
Q: What research projects have been funded and what are the results?
A: After more than two decades of research, no single option has emerged as the best replacement for fumigant options. While several options have shown promise in small-scale studies, no alternative treatment provides the same combination of cost effectiveness and efficacy as soil fumigants. The following is a summary of the research under way:
- Reducing fumigant use through integrated pest management, which relies on monitoring, ground rotation, modifying irrigation practices, supporting natural pest enemies and other non-chemical means to help prevent and treat pest problems.
- Soil-less production systems that replace soil with sterile substrates like peat, rice hulls, ground almond shells and coconut coir, a natural fiber extracted from the husk of coconut.
- Steam treatment to kill pests and diseases in the soil.
- Solarization using the heat of the sun combined with soil moisture to sterilize soil using clear tarps.
- Mustard seed meal, known as Brassica, incorporated into the soil and sealed with tarps to retain gases produced as the meal decomposes.
- Biologically active soil treatments.
- Use of Anaerobic Soil Disinfestation (ASD). ASD involves feeding some naturally occurring bacteria found in the soil, saturating the soil with water and then covering it with a plastic tarp, causing the plant residues to decompose without oxygen. The resulting byproducts suppress many of the soil-borne pests.
You can learn more about the commercial viability of these research strategies at: http://www.calstrawberry.com/Portals/0/Reports/Community%20Reports/Investing%20in%20a%20Sustainable%20Future.pdf?ver=2017-03-24-165159-710%3Cspan%20id=
The California Strawberry Commission’s Annual Production Research reports are posted at: http://www.calstrawberry.com/How-We-Farm/Research#.WCIw1cvrulJXXXX.
Q: What about varietal research?
A: Since 1956, California’s strawberry farmers have supported the University of California, Davis, with annual contributions and research grants through the California Strawberry Commission to support the development of strawberry varieties uniquely adapted to California’s exceptional growing environment. The UC Davis Strawberry Breeding Program is the world’s most successful program of its kind, supplying more than half of the world’s strawberry varieties. The breeding program has developed new, commercially useful varieties of strawberry plants that have higher quality berries, are more resistant to pests and diseases and can be grown more efficiently. Due in large part to the development of these new varieties, average strawberry yields have grown from 6 tons per acre in the 1950s to 30 tons per acre today, and the berries now grown on California farms are tastier and longer-lasting.
Ongoing research is testing the entire strawberry plant stock for specific soil-borne disease resistance. The test results will inform variety development for the future.