UAPB researcher receives grant aimed at improving strawberry production

Bobbie Handcock | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

PINE BLUFF, Ark. – A University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff researcher is among several across the country awarded a grant to explore more sustainable methods for growing strawberries for United States consumers. The competitive National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative grants program attracted 56 proposals from agricultural research and Extension personnel at land-grant universities in 29 states.

Dr. Leonard Githinji, an Extension horticulture specialist at UAPB, received funding for the project, “Establishing and Expanding Sustainable Strawberry Production in Eastern Arkansas and Surrounding Areas.” Extensive outreach and education, including hands-on exercises and demonstrations on sustainable strawberry production, will be conducted across the Arkansas Delta. Project activities will include five sustainable strawberry production workshops and the creation of three demonstration sites with high tunnels, row covers, plastic mulch and drip irrigation systems.

“I’m very excited about this project that will focus on establishing and expanding sustainable strawberry production for limited resource farmers in the Delta region of Arkansas,” Dr. Githinji said. “The project is very timely and will allow the state of Arkansas to play a real role in national strawberry production.”

This project is funded by a grant from the Walmart Foundation and administered by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability (CARS). The grant awards are part of a $3 million donation made by the Walmart Foundation to the Division of Agriculture.

“This grant project seeks to move the science and technology for alternative strawberry production systems and areas away from laboratories and experiment farms into the producers’ fields,” said Dr. Curt Rom, professor of horticulture in the Division of Agriculture and member of the CARS leadership team. The goal is to increase local and regional production of strawberries while reducing the environmental impact of production, transportation distances between farms and markets or consumers and product loss in the supply-value chain, he said.

The effort also seeks to improve the environmental and economic sustainability of the production system. “It will make significant local and regional impacts,” Dr. Rom said. “Upon completion of these projects, we will have a foundation for improving the sustainability of the U.S. strawberry production system through the supply chain, from growers to consumers.”

Strawberries rank as the fifth most popular consumed fresh fruit in the U.S., which produces 27 percent of the world supply. California and Florida account for 98 percent of the nation’s strawberry production.

Additional information about the projects is available at the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative website at http://strawberry.uark.edu.

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