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Projects focus on five target areas that the commission has identified as critical to improving labor efficiencies for strawberry production.

The traditional method of planting strawberry crops by hand is a time-consuming process. Planting must occur within a two to three week period during a busy production season when labor resources are stretched thin. Mechanized options currently do not exist due to the strawberry’s highly variable bare root. Any automated solutions must also account for the precise level of planting depth required for bare roots, as well as the crop’s specific planting process through a plastic cover.

Strawberries propagate through the production of runners, also known as stolons. These horizontal stems grow outward from the base of the plant. Once a runner touches soil, roots form, and a clone strawberry plant begins development. When growing strawberry plants for fruit production, runners are seen as a drain of energy that would otherwise be used to produce higher quality berries. Consequently, runners are periodically pruned by hand, which requires a significant use of labor.

Development of improved control methods for Lygus bugs, two-spotted mites, Lewis mites and other insect and arthropod pests is a major concern for fruit production. Lygus management is of particular concern, as the Lygus bug is the most economically damaging pest that threatens California strawberries. Currently available chemical and organic control methods are inadequate, and the Lygus bug has few effective natural enemies. This, combined with the low economic threshold for Lygus damage, makes substantial investment in mechanical control methods a priority.

Another target area is spray rig distribution uniformity. Pesticide application in strawberries uses large water volumes (150-200 gallons per acre) to guarantee good canopy coverage and penetration. To achieve high volumes, applications are made at high pressures (>150 psi) and use a large number of nozzles (10-20) per row. While the current configuration allows growers to satisfy their requirements in terms of applied volume per acre, there are opportunities for optimization. Choosing the appropriate nozzle type, position, and pressure can minimize drift while increasing distribution uniformity.

In contrast to many crops, strawberry harvesting is performed entirely by hand. This process includes locating the strawberry, removing the fruit from the stem, assessing its quality, and packing it in a plastic container. Each step poses its own automation challenge. A critical area of focus is designing solutions that are capable of handling the delicate exterior of strawberries, which can be easily bruised during both the picking and packing process. These automated methods must also be adaptable to strawberries of different shapes and sizes.

The majority of strawberries that go into the processing side of the industry have their calyxes removed by hand, either in the field or in a processing facility. Mechanized options currently do not exist due to the variability in strawberry shape and size, which makes it difficult to orient and process high volumes of strawberries efficiently. With significant time and resources spent each year on manual calyx removal, there is great potential for labor-saving automation in strawberry processing.

Automation Contacts


San Luis Obispo
John Lin
jlin@calstrawberry.org
805.867.3086

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