"It's exciting to see our work have real-world applications for our stakeholders — we now have the very first commercial strawberry producer in Lubbock County."
Thayne Montague, an associate professor of horticulture with Texas Tech's Department of Plant and Soil Science, is digging deep into what it takes to successfully grow strawberries in Texas and increase the crop's profitability across a wide swath of the state's growing conditions.
"One of the main challenges strawberry producers in Texas face is what particular strawberry variety may perform best in their specific location, and what management techniques will give them the greatest yields and highest quality fruit," Montague said.
Montague, who also holds a joint appointment to Texas A&M AgriLife Research-Lubbock, and Russ Wallace, a professor and extension specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Research-Lubbock, recently received a second Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) Specialty Crops Block Grant for the statewide strawberry research project. The added support builds on the first phase of research project led by Wallace, which was funded by the TDA in 2018.
So far, the researchers report success in determining appropriate fertilizer rates by variety and weed management programs using herbicides. In addition, they've had success using low tunnels for northern climates to protect crop growth. Looking ahead, the next step calls for doing more work with shading trials, fine-tuning fertilization and additional work with herbicides.
Among the interesting findings so far are which varieties improve or decrease yield based on fertilization rates and an increased understanding on which varieties are best suited for different growing environments in Texas.
"It's exciting to see our work have real-world applications for our stakeholders — we now have the very first commercial strawberry producer in Lubbock County," Wallace said. "He had 5,000 plants last year and planted 30,000 this year. To see him utilizing what we've learned so far and to be able to go out and see his fields is just wonderful."
Commercial strawberries are grown in several regions throughout Texas. "Each location, Lubbock, Arlington, Poteet, Houston, etc., has vastly different soils, climate and overall growing conditions," Montague said.
Strawberry producers also need information on the amount of fertilizer needed for the maximum yield. "Growers are concerned about fertilizer costs and reducing fertilizer runoff," he said. "Water-use efficiency, yield of product produced/volume of water applied, is a critical part of agriculture. Growers need information on how to maximize yield but use less water. With the tools and techniques we have and the experiments funded by the grant, we hope to answer some of these questions."
To assist growers, the project will investigate how several strawberry varieties perform in a number of growing locations. Montague and Wallace will try to determine the management techniques, low tunnels, shade cloth, planting dates, and other factors that will give Texas growers the fruit quality and yields they need to be profitable in each region.
Contributing: Susan Himes