New Yorkers want locally grown food choices. And, they like to eat tasty strawberries throughout the year. Unfortunately, the local climate only provides a 4-week harvest window for our traditional varieties. Dr. Marvin Pritts of Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science, sought Farm Viability funding to find a solution.
This article was originally published in the 2016 Annual Report
Pritts knew that new varietals of day neutral strawberries could provide large flavorful fruit for 18 weeks each season, and had recently completed work that demonstrates that planting these varietals in low tunnels can be a cost-effective solution to a short natural growing season.
The bottom line: The berries did beautifully. The low tunnels minimized disease, preventing both gray mold and powdery mildew. Compared to traditional plantings the low tunnel plantings had a 239% higher yield, with a 37% higher rate of marketable fruit.
Planting by May 1st proved to maximize the yield best as well as provide fruit in the late summer months when local strawberries can command premium pricing. Simple calculations using only estimated yield offset by field labor and the purchase of the low tunnel supplies show a potential net income of approximately $18,000 per acre in the first year. The income will increase with new plantings in subsequent years as the low tunnels can be reused with only modest additional investments. This illustrates that if a farm already has a distribution channel in place, these day neutral berries can be an opportunity for additional revenue.
The catch? While the enterprise will more than pay for itself, growing berries under low tunnels is a management intensive effort. Growers will need to plan for the work and be prepared to open and close the tunnels on a regular basis and apply nitrogen weekly.
“Growers need to constantly challenge themselves to think about what’s next. This project gives them a strong choice to diversify their enterprise. It would be a great first project for the next generation on some family farms.
Laura McDermott , Project team member, CCE Educator