Submitted to: International Journal of Fruit Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/17/2016
Publication Date: 4/11/2017
Citation: Lewers, K.S., Fleisher, D.H., Daughtry, C.S. 2017. Low tunnels as a strawberry breeding tool and season-extending production system. International Journal of Fruit Science. doi: 10.1080/15538362.2017.1305941. Interpretive Summary: Strawberries are economically valuable to farmers and are so popular with consumers that they expect to be able to buy strawberries all year long. Unfortunately, in much of the US, traditional strawberries produce fruit only three to four weeks a year. To develop types of strawberries that produce fruit for several months, breeders have to evaluate seedlings from cross-pollinations in a testing environment that enables them to identify a seedling that will produce good quality strawberries. This has been difficult in much of the US, because the mid-summer temperatures, light and other outdoor conditions have been too stressful to strawberry plants. This research reports the development of a new way of growing strawberries, outdoors in the field, that allows breeders to select seedlings that produce large, attractive and flavorful strawberry fruit spring through fall. The new way of growing strawberries also can be used by farmers to market their valuable strawberries for many months instead of a few weeks.
Technical Abstract: Strawberries (Fragaria ×ananassa Duchesne ex Rozier) are very popular with consumers and economically valuable. Recent changes in weather patterns in prime North American strawberry-producing regions have resulted in reduced production. Partly due to the high perishability of strawberry fruit, imports have been unable to replace the reduced supply. A typical harvest season outside prime strawberry production areas such as California and Florida is limited to only three to four weeks, but consumers expect to be able to purchase strawberries almost all year long. Repeat-fruiting varieties developed in other US regions could help supplement the reduced US strawberry supply, but only two US repeat-fruiting varieties have ever been developed in the US outside of California, and these are no longer considered to produce fruit of competitive quality. To develop new repeat-fruiting varieties that meet modern standards when grown in the US Mid-Atlantic and similar regions, a production system utilizing low tunnels over raised white-plastic-covered beds was developed as a breeding tool to enable meaningful selection. Use of this system resulted in a much longer season for evaluation, a greater ability to observe potential fruit yield and quality, and the ability to evaluate and select for resistance or tolerance to several pests and abiotic stresses sequentially rather than simultaneously, an advantage when the presence of one stressor impairs a breeder’s ability to evaluate for one or more other stressors. The low-tunnel system also shows great promise for commercial production up to nine months, even with varieties that were not developed locally.