What IMPAC Growers Want You to Know About Strawberry Season

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

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 4.59.17 PM.pngIf a strawberry farmer takes any time off, it’s most likely in July. By that time, they have cleaned up from last season which means they let the field die off and sent workers home or off to another crop. Once they head back to the fields in August it’s full steam ahead with prep work.The farmer starts by tilling the soil, then leveling the field and lastly forming rows that stand about 12 inches high. Next, the rows are covered with a high-density plastic which helps to maintain soil moisture, reduce weed competition, and improve efficiency of fertilizer use. Multiple pieces of equipment are connected to different tractors and used to form the rows, lay the plastic, and treat the soil for pathogens and pests. These newly shaped fields settle for 21-35 days, allowing the treatment in the soil to work through. In many cases, growers will reuse their plastic, with some farmers getting 2-3 seasons out of theirs, reducing costs and improving sustainability.Growers complete the process by punching holes into the tops of the rows where they can insert the plants. Plugs, or bare-root transplants are planted by hand. Strawberry farmers source all of their plants from nurseries throughout the U.S. and Canada.

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.

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 4.58.59 PM-1.png

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.


Want to learn more about fresh produce?

Check out our recent podcast episode—Your Food, Your Farmer: Vivian Howard and The Produce Mom®—and hear about tips families can use to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and how we can continue to be smarter about our health by consuming produce.

Your Food, Your Farmer Podcast