New strawberry cultivars may boost Ohio’s national berry identity

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COLUMBUS – Ohio may soon be on tap to compete nationally in retail and wholesale strawberry production – an agricultural market normally dominated by such big players as California, Florida and North Carolina.

Ohio, a relatively small player in strawberry production (ranked ninth by the Ohio Department of Agriculture), could very well be off the porch and running with the big dogs with the help of some new cultivars.

Dick Funt, an Ohio State University Extension small fruit specialist, said that the cultivars in their first harvest year have pulled off impressive production numbers, with yields averaging three to six times more than other strawberry cultivars grown and berries averaging two to three times larger in size.

‘Exciting news.’ “This is very exciting news,” said Funt, an horticulture and crop science professor. “Ohio has the opportunity to grow and place a better tasting berry on the market similar to what states like California put out.

“These cultivars may help Ohio compete better in that national wholesale market.”

Cultivars. The cultivars the researchers evaluated were mid-season fruits: Cabot – a Nova Scotia cultivar on the market for a few years; NYUS 304B (Clancy) and NY 1819 (L’Amour) – two New York cultivars that were commercially released this month.

Funt compared their performance to standard Ohio-grown strawberries such as Earliglow, Allstar and Avalon and found that the new cultivars outperformed the standard cultivars in yield and berry size.

Additionally, they also showed good resistance to diseases, such as root rot – driven by excessively wet weather – and they maintain a good interior red color – a trait advantageous in the wholesale market.

Production. Funt said Ohio growers have struggled to obtain their production goal of a pound of berries per linear foot of row, a number they felt they needed in order to be profitable.

Most growers only manage a half-pound of berries per linear foot of row and average between 5,000 and 7,000 pounds of berries per acre.

“With these new cultivars growers may be able to reach that goal and even go beyond that 5,000 to 7,000 pound average,” Funt said.

New production. The researchers found that Cabot, for example, generated 1.7 pounds of berries per foot of row, which translates into 17,000 pounds per acre if a grower manages an average of 10,000 plants.

For L’Amour, the cultivar produced nearly 3 pounds of berries per foot of row, potentially generating a whopping 30,000 pounds of berries per acre.

Trials. The researchers grew the berries under a simple management system: on raised beds 12 inches apart with trickle irrigation and a standard spray system to ward off diseases and weeds.

“We are still finessing the system,” Funt said, “trying to find the best practices for weed control, disease control, runner development and adequate and effective irrigation.

“For example, our irrigation system ‘pumped’ the berries up so large that they literally split in half.”

Culls, damage. They are also working on reducing the number of culls, or damaged fruit, produced by the three cultivars.

The percentage of culls ranged anywhere from 11 percent up to 19 percent. The acceptable range is normally between 5 percent and 10 percent, Funt said.

“We are searching for that standard recipe for strawberries,” Funt said. “We can’t ever predict the weather, which has such a big impact on a crop’s performance.

“But we do expect production like this to continue as the grower uses good management practices. And just based on genetics of these new cultivars, the potential is there.”

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