The majority of the U.S. strawberry crop is produced in California, predominately in the central coastal valleys. The annual production system uses day-neutral cultivars planted in the fall and typically grown for 9 to 12 months. Little fertility research has been conducted in this region in recent decades even as improvements in cultivars and production practices have dramatically raised fruit yields, which now commonly exceed 25 tons/acre. While there is a substantial body of recent research on strawberry N requirements from other production areas (Hochmuth et al., 1996; Kirschbaum et al., 2006; Miner et al., 1997; Santos and Chandler, 2009), these studies report on production systems with different environmental conditions, shorter production seasons and lower yield potential, and therefore may not be directly applicable. Relevant research on other nutrients in strawberry production is very limited.
Plant tissue nutrient testing is widely used in the California strawberry industry. However, the current California diagnostic guidelines (Ulrich et al., 1980) were developed more than 30 years ago and differ substantially for some nutrients from more recent sources (Campbell and Miner, 2000; Hochmuth and Albregts, 1994; Jones et al., 1991). With new cultivars and other advances in California strawberry production, a reevaluation of tissue nutrient diagnostic guidelines is warranted.
Foliar nutrient sufficiency guidelines for horticultural crops have typically been established through fertilizer rate studies conducted at a limited number of field sites, and usually evaluating only one or two nutrients. This approach may not adequately account for the effects of variability in field conditions, or the relative availability of other nutrients. Studies have shown that critical leaf N concentrations developed by such traditional fertilizer rate experiments can vary by location and year (Maier et al., 1990; Westerveld et al., 2003). Such confounding effects may partially explain the variability in published diagnostic guidelines.
An alternative approach to developing foliar nutrient concentration guidelines is DRIS analysis (Beaufils, 1973; Walworth and Sumner, 1987). In the DRIS approach, differences in foliar nutrient concentrations and nutrient ratios between high- and low-yielding fields are used to estimate the degree to which various nutrients may limit yield either by deficiency or excess. DRIS evaluation has been conducted on a number of horticultural crops (Angeles et al., 1993; Beverly, 1987; Caldwell et al., 1994; Hartz et al., 1998, 2007; Parent and Granger, 1989). DRIS has primarily been used as a diagnostic tool with which tissue nutrient concentrations from a specific field of interest could be compared with a set of established standards, or “norms,” through the calculation of nutrient ratios and indices. Alternatively, the DRIS framework has been used to establish optimum leaf nutrient ranges (Hartz et al., 1998, 2007; Needham et al., 1990). The objective of this study was to develop DRIS leaf blade and petiole nutrient optimum ranges of broad applicability to the California strawberry industry.
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