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AgriLife Extension gets nod for additional strawberry funding

To many, nothing says summer like a big bowl of cool, luscious ripe strawberries picked straight from the garden. But due to the scarcity of locally grown strawberries, that luxury is out of reach for most Texans.

Now, thanks to a $92,267 grant provided by the Walmart Foundation, Texas grown strawberries could become as common as locally grown tomatoes if a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service vegetable expert has his way.

Jun2014 PhaseII-strawberry

Strawberries ripe for the picking in a Texas high tunnel. (Photo courtesy Dr. Russ Wallace, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service)

Dr. Russ Wallace of Lubbock heads the Texas Strawberry Team tasked with making strawberries a mainstream Texas produced treat.
“We received notification on May 18 that our project entitled ‘Increasing Grower Market Potential and Consumer Preference for Locally Grown Strawberries through Strategic Extension Programming in Texas’ was among six grants awarded during Phase II of the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative. The initiative is funded by the Walmart Foundation and administered by the University of Arkansas Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability.

“Our Phase II project will add new growers willing to give strawberries a try on a small scale, and will also connect AgriLife Extension horticulture agents with growers in their counties to enable both the growers and the agent to gain experience growing strawberries,” Wallace said. “In addition to the strawberry production and marketing training for county agents and growers, we will also follow and survey the growers on their own marketing and sales techniques to help us understand better how to improve strawberry profitability and sustainability in the state.”

The Phase II project will begin July 1 and end on June 30, 2015.

As the name implies, Phase II is the second initiative grant offered. It is also the Texas Strawberry Team’s second successfully funded proposal in as many years.

The initial grant awarded in May 2013 for $158,391was put toward expanding sustainable strawberry production by introducing high tunnel and plasticulture technology to growers in under-served regions. It was also used to increase the knowledge of strawberry production and consumption to consumers across Texas, Wallace said.

High tunnels are large plastic Quonset-hut style structures similar in appearance to modern greenhouses, but lack heat or humidity controls, Wallace said. Owing to the protection they offer from late frost and wind damage, the structures allow earlier harvests and longer growing intervals, enabling producers to market their harvest at optimal times.

Plasticulture is the practice of using black plastic sheeting through which strawberries are grown. The sheeting warms the soil, thus putting dormant plants into production sooner,while at the same time,retaining moisture and suppressing weed growth, he said.

To learn more about the work Wallace’s Texas Strawberry Team is doing, see their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/texasstrawberry project or go to the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative blog site http://wordpress.uark.edu/sberries/ .

For more information on the Texas initiative project or on upcoming educational opportunities, contact Wallace at rwwallace@ag.tamu.edu or 806-746-6101.

“Our eventual goal is greatly increase our state’s current strawberry production acreage, now only at about 150 acres, to the point where we can all easily enjoy what could well become a uniquely Texas treat,” Wallace said.

 

[via AgriLife Today | AgriLife Extension gets nod for additional strawberry funding]

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