Currently 91 percent of the Strawberries consumed in the United States are grown in California with the remaining majority grown in Florida and Oregon. Traditionally Strawberries have been grown as row crops in fields with about 50,000 Acres of land in the US currently dedicated to their cultivation. At its current scale, the US strawberry industry generates revenues of $2.4 billon a year.
Recently the industry has come under scrutiny for concerns around pesticide and fungicide use, water use and sanitation. Additionally strawberries themselves are a particularly fragile fruit, with soft skin and high sugar content, which make it particularly prone to disease and spoilage.
All the while the US demand for fresh fruit, most specifically berry consumption has been increasing, as have prices. Due to market circumstances surrounding strawberry consumption as well as government regulation around the use of common soil fumigants, the industry is being forced to explore other cultural practices.
The recent emergences of greenhouse, hydroponic, controlled environment agriculture and aquaculture technologies as well as uncertainties around current practices have reinvigorated interest in decentralized soilless strawberry cultivation.
Under the direction and supervision of Dr. Michael Timmons, renowned aquaculturalist and professor of Cornell’s Biological and Environmental Engineering Department, we are exploring the productivity and economic viability of localized off-season soilless, hydroponic and aquaponic ever-bearing strawberry cultivation. The main goal of our research is to make a recommendation to greenhouse growers considering controlled strawberry cultivation for a recommended variety of berry, method of hydroponics, and appropriate cultural practices for successful commercial production.
We have constructed four replicate recirculating hydroponic systems consisting of Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and Drip to Drain (DD) methodologies. Each methodology within each system will be grown under hydroponic or aquaponic water conditions and each system will be planted with the same number of 3 different cultivars of ever-bearing strawberry (Albion, Seascape, and Monterey) for a total of 60 plantings of each variety or 240 plants total across the 4 systems. Additionally we have constructed two recirculating Deep Water Culture (DWC) hydroponic system for 60 additional plants (10 of each variety across 2 systems). The aquaponic water is provided from a 600 gallon recirculating aquaculture system. In total we will have 300 plants or 100 plants of each variety across all systems.
We will be planting out each season’s crop in early June with the goal of producing first fruit by August 1 which correlates with the end of the season for local field grown strawberries. Our constraints are to maintain consistent environmental conditions including temperature, photoperiod, plant spacing and nutrition across all systems. We will be capturing data for yield of each variety per sq ft of planting per system as well as fruit quality and nutritional content. Additionally we will be testing the fruit for titratable acid as well as its Brix score (sweetness).
Thank you for your interest in our research. Additional information and updates on our progress will be available here as we can offer it. Please feel free to contact us directly with additional questions, to schedule a visit to our facility, or to discuss sponsorship opportunities.
Research Support Specialist, Biological and Environmental Engineering
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853