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Anticipating the phaseout of methyl bromide, the USDA-ARS small fruit breeding program at Beltsville, Md., discontinued soil fumigation in strawberry breeding and selection trials in the mid 1990s. To address resulting weed and pathogen pests, a modified or advanced matted row system was developed. This system uses matted row-type culture, established on raised beds with subsurface drip irrigation and organic mulch. The mulch is the residue of a killed cover crop that fixes some nitrogen and provides an economical, biodegradable mulch for suppressing weeds and reducing erosion. Since 1996, the small fruit breeding program has conducted replicated performance trials on both advanced matted row and a regional adaptation of annual hill plasticulture. Both of these systems were managed without methyl bromide fumigation or fungicide application. Data from these trials were used to compare advanced matted row and plasticulture for yield, fruit quality and harvest season. Yield for the two systems was genotype dependent, and the advanced matted row system had later production and slightly lower fruit quality.

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In consumer-harvested marketing, crop management practices and production systems directly affect the experience of the customer. An experiment was designed to compare overall consumer preference and fruit quality characteristics among three perennial cold-climate strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa) production systems: conventional matted row (CMR), advanced matted row (AMR), and cold-climate plasticulture (CCP). Replicate plots of each system were maintained for two harvest seasons. Volunteers harvested subplots in each system and completed a survey to evaluate pick-your-own consumer preferences. The CCP system was preferred by a majority of consumers in the first year, whereas the AMR system was rated highest in the second year. Preferences were positively correlated with ease of harvest and fruit appearance and negatively correlated with the percentage of fruit unfit for harvest. Fruit quality measurements made on marketable fruit in the second harvest season indicated that there were no treatment differences in titratable acidity or soluble solids concentration, but significantly lower fruit firmness in the CCP treatment compared with CMR and AMR.

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