AgriLife Extension specialist receives grant for future strawberry work
Dr. Russ Wallace’s work aims to revitalize Texas strawberry industry
LUBBOCK – The National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative has awarded a $158,391grant to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service team headed by a Lubbock educator.
Dr. Russ Wallace, AgriLife Extension vegetable specialist, said the grant will fund a large collaborative effort within the state.
“The funding will support our work stemming from our submitted proposal called the Revitalization of the Texas Strawberry Industry Through Identification of Production Constraints and the Introduction of New Technologies,” Wallace said. “Our project will launch a statewide collaborative effort to address grower, retailer and consumer concerns through AgriLife Extension programming and a series of surveys and research.”
The team will compile the information into a booklet on sustainable strawberry production to enhance the state’s industry. The funding will also support multiple regionally based strawberry production conferences and trainings meant to inform and demonstrate sustainable production techniques, according to Wallace.
Much of Wallace’s work with strawberries in recent years has centered around the use of high tunnels, which he explained are long “quonset hut-style” plastic-covered structures. While similar in appearance to modern greenhouses, they lack heat sources and humidifiers. And unlike a greenhouse, the strawberries are planted directly into the ground.
Wallace said the structures are useful in prolonging the berry season as the plants can be established in the fall without severe damage to the plants. The tunnels also protect plants from wind and the blowing dust frequently encountered on the Southern Rolling and High Plains.
The team’s proposal was one of 18 funded from the 56 submitted from public universities in 29 states, according to a news release from the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability, which will administer the funding grant.
The release said, “This grant seeks to move the science and technology for alternative strawberry production systems and areas away from laboratories and experiment farms into the producers’ fields. The goal is to increase local and regional production of strawberries, to reduce the environmental impact of production, to reduce product loss in the supply value chain and improve the environmental and economic sustainability of the production system.”
The grants, which were awarded May 29 during the last week of National Strawberry Month, are part of a $3 million donation made in February by the Walmart Foundation.
Strawberries rank as the fifth most popular consumed fresh fruit produced in the U.S., which produces 27 percent of the world supply, according to the Arkansas release.
As part of the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative, grant recipients will have 12 months to complete their projects. The resulting reports are scheduled for release in September 2014.
For more information about the grant and the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative visit: http://strawberry.uark.edu .