Research fuels strawberry innovation

Long acknowledged for pioneering work in integrated pest management and irrigation management, California strawberry farmers lead the world in research dedicated to reducing pesticide use. For the past six years, the California Strawberry Commission has invested heavily in fumigant alternatives research, including soilless systems, steam, mustard seed meal and anaerobic soil disinfestation.

The California Strawberry Commission recently announced awards totaling more than $1 million in state and federal research grants to advance the scientific knowledge on sustaining healthy soils to control plant diseases, and reduce the need for soil fumigation. The research will focus on evaluation of experimental soil-borne disease management systems using biologically active soil treatments.

"These recent grant awards will allow us to continue working with the top researchers in the world to find sustainable solutions to managing plant disease and pests in the soil without fumigation," says Dan Legard, commission vice president of research and grower education. "We look forward to more robust research aimed at new ways to create healthy soil environments for strawberries."

Continued research to find non-chemical alternatives to fumigants is critical to the future sustainability of California strawberry farmers, who have received global recognition for phasing out methyl bromide to protect the earth's ozone layer. The loss of methyl bromide has left farmers with only one remaining tool to clean the soil — chloropicrin. 

While chloropicrin has been used safely for the past 50 years, it does not control all the soil-borne disease. In recent years, the state's strawberry farmers have seen an increase in two diseases: macrophomina and fusarium.

This $1 million in new research will help strawberry farmers find other soil cleaning alternatives. The million-dollar in research grants come from two primary sources. The US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service awarded $750,000 for further research into deploying anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD) and mustard seed meal methods as practical and sustainable options for California strawberry farmers to control diseases in the soil. 

Earlier research demonstrated that ASD and mustard seed meal work well in some circumstances. However, the cooler climate and variety of diseases found in soils in the prime strawberry growing areas along the Central Coast present challenges to these methods, and previous experiments resulted in crop failure. The goal of the new research funding is to identify predictable and effective disease control in the Central coast regions.

Additionally, the California Environmental Protection Agency's Department of Pesticide Regulation awarded $298,472 to the commission to evaluate soil-borne disease management systems that integrate the use of biologically active soil treatments, such as ASD, in combination with reduced rates of fumigants. This research aims to significantly reduce the amounts of fumigants used to treat soil diseases before planting, and improve the efficacy of biological approaches.

"We are honored to be recognized for our pioneering research to reduce fumigant use with these significant grants to move our research to the next level," says Rick Tomlinson, president of the California Strawberry Commission. "Our partnerships continue to support innovative developments to carry strawberry farming into a sustainable future in California. These efforts support strawberry farmers' efforts to provide for the health of American consumers who rank strawberries among their favorite fruit."