California produces more than 80% of the U.S. strawberry crop (USDA, Economic Research Service, 2012) with production centered in the coastal valleys of central California. In this region an annual cropping system is used in which transplants are planted into fumigated, plastic mulched beds in the fall and usually grown for 9 to 12 months. Sprinkler irrigation is generally used to establish the transplants with drip irrigation used exclusively thereafter. N fertility is typically managed by a combination of preplant CRF application and in-season N fertigation. There has been a significant evolution over recent decades in cultural practices used and in cultivars grown; yields have increased 140% over the past 50 years (Shaw and Larson, 2008) and now commonly exceed 70 Mg·ha−1.
Water quality monitoring in these coastal valleys has shown that groundwater often exceeds the Federal drinking water standard of 10 mg·L−1 NO3-N. Consequently, strawberry growers are under increasing regulatory pressure to improve their management practices to protect groundwater. Recently proposed regulations would require growers to report N fertilization rates and to bring N application into approximate balance with crop N uptake. Annual N uptake by strawberry crops has been reported to range from 59 kg·ha−1 to 200 kg·ha−1 (Albregts and Howard, 1980; Latet et al., 2002; Strik et al., 2004; Tagliavini et al., 2004, 2005). There is no reliable information on strawberry crop N uptake or grower N fertilization practices in California strawberry production, so it is unclear whether significant modification of current practices would be required to meet regulatory goals.
Studies in other strawberry production regions have indicated that no more than a seasonal total of 155 kg·ha−1 N was necessary to maximize fruit yield in annual production systems (Albregts et al., 1991a; Hochmuth et al., 1996; Kirschbaum et al., 2006; Locascio and Martin, 1985; Miner et al., 1997; Santos and Chandler, 2009). Splitting N application between preplant fertilization and in-season fertigation has been shown to be beneficial. Preplant application of no more than 67 kg N/ha (Albregts and Chandler, 1993; Miner et al., 1997) and in-season fertigation averaging between 0.5 and 0.9 kg·ha−1·d−1 (Hochmuth et al., 1996; Miner et al., 1997; Santos and Chandler, 2009) were adequate to achieve peak fruit production. However, these studies reported on production systems with different environmental conditions, shorter production seasons, and lower yield and therefore may not be directly applicable to California conditions.
Irrigation is intrinsically linked to N management both as an N application method and as a primary influence on NO3-N leaching. Shallow rooting depth (Strand, 1994), and sensitivity to soil salinity (Maas, 1984) and low soil water potential (Serrano et al., 1992), make efficient strawberry irrigation management challenging. Hanson and Bendixen (2004) found that seasonal irrigation applied to seven California strawberry fields ranged from underirrigation to a leaching fraction of 28%.
The primary objective of this study was to document plant and soil N dynamics in annual strawberry production under the environmental conditions and current grower management practices of the central coast region of California. Additionally, strawberry response to preplant CRF application rates was evaluated in three commercial field trials.
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USDA Economic Research Service2012U.S. strawberry industry. <http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/MannUsda/viewDocumentInfo.do?documentID=1381>