Strawberry season is a big deal in Central Florida. Plant City and surrounding farms within a 40-mile range are responsible for nearly 300 million pounds of strawberries each year. With that kind of production, its no wonder it’s the self proclaimed “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World”. Peak season, the time that you can get the world’s sweetest berries on your table, runs from December to March. The Annual Strawberry Festival celebrates the season along with countless roadside farm stands, bountiful u-pick fields, and the best strawberry shortcake that folks wait hours to enjoy.
Prepping the Fields
Farmers Reduce and Reuse
Farmers are resourceful because they have to be. Farming is capital intensive and beyond that, just plain risky. Between the costs of labor, nutrients, pesticides, water, equipment, fuel, electricity and unplanned storms like Irma, costs can skyrocket.
- Strawberry farmers reuse the plastic rows; this can save a farmer approximately 10%.
- Soil moisture sensors are now used in 8-10% of farms making them a part of the precision agriculture trend. By using these sensors, farmers reduce their water by approximately 15%.
- Scouting by satellite, drone, or ground captures data that helps strawberry farmers reduce and/or direct their treatments. By targeting specific areas, farmers can reduce their cost by 20%.
Case Study: Sweet Life Farms
Sweet Life Farms adopted new technologies in 2015. Owner, Andy McDonald and his team now use valuable data taken from soil probes that measure moisture, fertilizer movement, and weather data gathered from weather stations. The soil probes monitor water usage and fertilizer activity, aiming to decrease their usage. The weather station directs Sweet Life’s irrigation practices, notifying them when to irrigate based on the plant’s needs and the current growing environment. They are also relied on heavily during the winter for frost protection.
Sweet Life Farms processes numerous tissue samples collected by Highland Precision Ag and analyzed at Waypoint Analytical laboratories in Mulberry, FL. Samples collected from soil, water, and leaf tissues throughout the season display results that keep Andy informed about the current nutritional status of his plants, helping to reduce the amount of fertilizer he uses and prevent costly over-fertilization.
Sweet Life Farms also uses images taken from satellites that help direct scouts on the ground right to the problem areas in a particular field. By using these extremely detailed images, scouts can go directly to the low vigor areas in the field that may show indications of pest, disease, or nutritional problems effecting the crop. By using consistent weekly scouting beginning one week after planting, Andy has established plant quality baselines and monitored pest and disease levels. This consistent work done in the field has helped Sweet Life Farms achieve their goal of reducing the use of pesticides.