N.C. strawberry research gets boost from grant

by | Jun 5, 2013

Photo of Jeremy Pattison in strawberry patch

Dr. Jeremy Pattison inspects strawberries at Piedmont Research Station near Salisbury. Photo: N.C. State University

Strawberries are a delicious, healthy fruit that brought in more than $29 million for North Carolina farmers last year. Unfortunately, the strawberry season in our state is relatively short. So strawberry lovers and farmers might welcome the news that a scientist at N.C. State University has received a grant to further his research into extending the season.

Dr. Jeremy Pattison, strawberry breeder and geneticist with N.C. State’s Plants for Human Health Institute in Kannapolis, recently was awarded a $158,391 grant from the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative. The grant will support work in transferring the latest research to strawberry growers in North and South Carolina and Virginia to maximize yields and profitability.

Pattison recently completed a comprehensive research program that has developed a fall growing degree day model. Pattison has extensively tested the new production practices at N.C. State and NCDA&CS research stations across the state. “They show great potential to increase marketable yield, season length and stability,” he said in a news release. “This grant will help us more effectively provide training and technology transfer to growers.”

In addition to the latest research, new technologies and tools will be shared with growers. Pattison cited a cost-effective, energy-efficient cooling system that was recently developed for use by small to medium-size growers to increase fruit quality and reduce the loss of berries after harvest. Another aspect of the project will focus on educating growers about the updated comprehensive strawberry plasticulture farm budget, which is designed to help growers better manage financial resources.

“Small growers, in particular, need inexpensive and energy-efficient cooling systems while all growers are looking to improve fruit quality management,” Pattison said. “In addition, we want to help growers mitigate financial risks by demonstrating the economic impacts of production improvements.”

The strawberry industry value in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia is about $48 million. Strawberries are the fifth most consumed fruit in the United States and their popularity in terms of national consumption has increased by 51 percent the last 10 years.

North Carolina and the surrounding region are well-positioned to supply the current increases in consumer demand, Pattison said, but success is dependent on satisfying all participants in the supply chain such as regional chain stores.

“Because our relatively short season often limits access to larger, local markets, we believe production improvements and other strategies to maximize fruit quality and postharvest stability are needed to increase the presence of local fruit in major markets,” he said.

Working with Pattison are Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie, postharvest physiologist; Jonathan Baros, farm management Extension associate; and Leah Chester-Davis, communications and outreach coordinator. All are with the Plants for Human Health Institute at the N.C. Research Campus. The project will also include Cooperative Extension faculty from North Carolina, Clemson University and Virginia Tech and a representative from Lassen Canyon Nursery, one of the premier strawberry nurseries in the world.

The National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative is administered by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. According to the center, funded projects will result in more sustainable strawberries for U.S. consumers. The grant awards are part of a $3 million donation made by the Walmart Foundation.