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Ravneet K. Sandhu, Nathan S. Boyd, Shaun Sharpe, Zhengfei Guan, Qi Qiu, Tianyuan Luo and Shinsuke Agehara

Strawberry growers face rising production costs combined with competition from foreign imports. Relay cropping vegetables with strawberries is a unique approach that can diversify income and reduce the risk associated with strawberry production. Planting vegetable transplants on the same bed before strawberry crop termination enables continued berry harvesting while the new vegetable transplants become established. Relay cropping techniques of strawberry with eggplants were evaluated during the 2016–17 and 2017–18 seasons in Balm, FL. The strawberry crop was planted in September, and eggplant was transplanted into the beds either as a sole crop or with strawberry plants. Two experiments were conducted to optimize the planting date of strawberries and the termination date of strawberries. The objective of the research was to examine the competitive relationship between strawberry and eggplant crops and to define the optimal planting date for the eggplant and termination date of strawberries to minimize the competitive interaction and maximize the yield of both crops. Strawberry yields were unaffected (P = 0.938) by relay cropping or by the planting date of the eggplant. Eggplants grown without strawberries had 27% to 32% higher yields (P = 0.004) compared with relay-cropped eggplants, and eggplant yield decreased with later planting dates (P < 0.001). A partial budget analysis showed that transplant dates of 4 and 18 Jan. for eggplants with strawberries resulted in increased profits of $7320 and $3461 per ha, respectively, over the baseline treatment of strawberries alone, but later planting dates resulted in an overall economic loss ($7800–$16,000/ha). Strawberry termination dates did not affect eggplant yields. In conclusion, relay cropping eggplants with strawberries resulted in no effect on strawberry yields, reduced eggplant yields, but increased overall profits when eggplant were transplanted in early to mid-January. Relay cropping of strawberries with eggplants in early February to early March is less profitable than a monocrop of strawberries.