- Author: Mark Bolda
One of the tasks of the UCCE Farm Advisor is to assist his or her colleagues from the UC with their outreach to growers, at the same time they help growers interpret information coming to them from these sources.
Such is the case with the article announcing the release of a five new strawberry varieties from UC Davis published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel which I've included below. Since it is from the UC Davis News Services, I'm assuming this went to other press organizations as well.
As I will elucidate in the following paragraphs, growers should not look to the popular press for information on making planting decisions for their operations.
Take a walk with me:
Two of the new varieties ostensibly outyield what is on offer now, which I assume are varieties such as Cabrillo and Monterey. I've seen these new varieties and yes the yield is impressive, but this throws a good deal of doubt to the statement that these varieties would use less water, fertilizer and pesticides.
We all know from experience that large men drink and eat more to sustain themselves than small men. This axiom is also very much the case in the world of plants.
Take as an example the work that I did a number of years ago with Dr. Tim Hartz of UC Davis modifying the nutritional requirements for strawberry which we developed for the variety ‘Albion' that in good hands yields on average 8000 boxes per acre to the newer ‘Monterey', that yields on average 12,000 boxes per acre. Our update for the 50% higher yield on 'Monterey' found that sure enough the nutritional requirements, especially that of the key nitrogen, were also 50% higher. With these newly released varieties producing up to 16,000 boxes per acre (in research plots anyway), the nitrogen use will be proportionally higher. To feed them less in spite of their tremendous yield potential would be a mistake.
The paragraph on runnering has given me some pause also. According to our 2016 Cost of Production Study for Conventional Strawberries, runner cutting (in addition to hand weed removal) costs growers on average $1600 dollars per acre, which yes is a huge expense, but a far cry from $5000. So I am really wondering where this high a cost is coming from. I realize we've had a jump in labor costs over the past three years, but more than double? Or is someone overchilling their plants, pushing vegetative growth and then having to cut all the resulting runners, along with taking it in the chops on yield? To generalize this situation for the industry as a whole is just wrong.
Furthermore, as the source of the subsequent transplant crop for the whole California strawberry industry, runners are not just “handy” for plant propagation. Nor are they “vine like fingers” of the plant, they are actually botanically stems growing along with the ground producing the nodes from which aerial and soil roots arise.
Lastly, making a few calls around reveals growers may want to note that these varieties are yet to be available at any appreciable scale from our nurseries.
Here is the article, see for yourself what I am ranting about:
By Diane J Nelson
UC Davis News Service
The Public Strawberry Breeding Program at UC Davis has released five new varieties that will help farmers manage diseases, control costs and produce plenty of large, robust berries using less water, fertilizer and pesticides. Two of the new varieties could increase yields by almost 30 percent.
The strawberries were test grown in Salinas and Watsonville among other places.
“These new varieties are intrinsically different from the ones they replace,” said Steve Knapp, professor and director of the UCD Strawberry Breeding Program. “After more than three years of field tests, we're seeing higher yields, greater disease resistance and better quality after harvest.”
The new pedigrees should benefit consumers, as well. “The price and quality of strawberries improve when farmers have access to varieties that help them grow better berries more cost efficiently,” said Dave Murray, a farmer and partner in Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce.
Since its inception in the 1930s, the Public Strawberry Breeding Programhas developed more than 60 patented varieties, turned strawberries into a yearround crop and increased strawberry yield from about 6 tons per acre in the 1950s
to more than 30 tons per acre today. The U.S. is the world's largest producer of strawberries, and almost 90% of them are grown in California's cool, coastal climates. About 60% of the state's strawberry fields are planted with varieties developed at UCD.
Each of the new varieties will have its own farming niche — thriving better in certain environments under specific growing conditions. Three of the new varieties — Moxie, Royal Royce and Valiant — will perform well throughout the long, warm days of summer. Two varieties — Victor and Warrior — are bred for cooler climates from Santa Maria south along California's coast.
In general, all the new berries are large, flavorful, firm and disease- resistant. Victor and Valiant perform well in organic systems. Moxie and Royal Royce are showing yield increases of as much as 29% over previous UC varieties.
Two new varieties — Moxie and Royal Royce — could save farmers up to $5,000 an acre in labor costs because they sprout fewer runners, the vine-like fingers that strawberries send out that produce roots and develop into duplicate plants. Runners are handy when propagating strawberries, but farmers have to continually cut them back during the growing season to help plants conserve energy for producing bigger berries.
“Runners are a huge expense,” explained Greg France, a longtime California Strawberry Commissioner and family farmer from Santa Maria. “We have to hire labor throughout the season just to cut back the runners. These new varieties will be a big deal for us.”
Disease-resistant berries will also reduce production costs and improve environmental sustainability, farmers say.
Strawberries are especially vulnerable to soilborne pathogens, which can destroy an entire crop. Since the 1960s, many strawberry growers have depended on fumigants like methyl bromide to fight disease, but methyl bromide and other fumigants are being phased out by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Since Knapp took over the strawberry breeding program in 2015, he and his team have been working to develop varieties with genetic resistance to disease to reduce the need for fumigants. All five of the new varieties will be less susceptible to a range of diseases, including Fusarium wilt, Verticillium wilt and Macrophomina.
To create a beneficial variety, plant breeders cross plants with desired traits and select the best offspring over multiple generations. UCD strawberry breeders are continuing that work on test sites and farms along California's “strawberry belt,” from Ventura to Watsonville, each with its own particular climate and crop management strategies.
“Every farmer has his or her own recipe for growing the berries, which is good,” said Glenn Cole, breeder and field manager with the strawberry breeding program. “It helps us see how the crop performs in different environments.”
The team anticipates releasing one or two additional varieties in early 2020 that can be planted in the summer and harvested in time for the winter holidays.
In the meantime, farmers can buy the newest UCD varieties at nurseries starting this fall. Also, detailed data on how each variety performed throughout the breeding trials is available to everyone at the California Strawberry Commission website.
“The great thing about UC Davis strawberry cultivars is they are available to all growers,” said strawberry farmer Dave Murray. “The world-class research on which these varieties are based benefits us all.”