In the United States, strawberries are mainly grown commercially in Florida and California, but most other regions—especially near metropolitan areas—have their own strawberry production (Guan et al., 2013; USDA-National Agriculture Statistics Service, 2014). In California and Florida, strawberry growers use the plastic-covered annual system with black plastic cover (plasticulture) with fall planting and spring harvest (Gubler and Eastburn, 1988). In the mid-Atlantic, Northeast, and Midwest, the matted-row perennial system is more popular with spring planting and fruit harvesting the years thereafter (Galletta and Swartz, 1984; Hokanson and Finn, 2000; Stevens et al., 2009; Yao et al., 2009). Stevens et al. (2006, 2007, 2009) compared three planting systems—conventional matted-row system, cold-climate plasticulture, and advanced matted-row system—for fruit quality, consumer preference, sustainability, and costs in Maryland. Poling (1993) and Poling and Safley (1986) also documented the economics and management details of matted-row systems vs. annual-hilling plasticulture in North Carolina. In cold areas, annual plasticulture is difficult to manage and is not as profitable as in Florida or California. With a short growing season and cold winter, the planting date for the plasticulture has to be early (late summer) and the shipping of dormant plants itself could be problematic, especially for those areas without local berry nurseries. In Utah, June-bearing cultivar Chandler grown in high tunnels was profitable, but the ever-bearing cultivars in high tunnels were not (Rowley et al., 2010, 2011).
Strawberry cultivar adaptation, in comparison with other fruit crops such as apples and peaches, tends to be more localized geographically. Each area has its own best performers adapted to its soil, weather conditions, and pest/disease pressures (Weber, 2005; Yao et al., 2009). Strawberry cultivars have changed more rapidly than any other fruit crop, and this trend will continue in the future (Hokanson and Finn, 2000). There are several active strawberry breeding programs in North America and quite a few new cultivars were released within the past 10 years (Jamieson, 2003; Jamieson et al., 2004a, 2004b, 2009; Lewers et al., 2004; Luby et al., 2003). With different genetic backgrounds, cultivar adaptation or tolerance to adverse soil conditions is expected to differ.
High frequency and intensity of late spring frosts in semiarid climates have made fruit production challenging in these areas (Yao et al., 2011). Growers may only harvest five to six apple crops during a 10-year period, and as a result, many have been forced to abandon their orchards. To help these growers stay in business, alternative crops are needed. Strawberry is a possible alternative crop because it matures early and is relatively easy to produce, but late spring frosts still have the potential to delay or reduce harvest. In general, strawberries prefer slightly acidic soil and often exhibit leaf chlorosis in high-pH soils (Luby et al., 2003; Renquist and Hughes, 1985). Research on strawberries in high-pH soil conditions is limited (Renquist and Hughes, 1985; Rowley et al., 2010; Zaiter et al., 1993) and some of the older cultivars with research data are no longer commercially available.
We set up a strawberry experiment with 16 cultivars and two perennial planting systems at the NMSU Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde with three objectives: evaluate cultivars’ tolerance to high-pH soil, determine yield potential in high-pH soil, and compare two perennial planting systems for high-elevation areas in the Southwest.
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