By Clint Thompson
Strawberry growers need to stay proactive to remain viable and sustainable amid growing challenges throughout the industry.
Consider the obstacles that Florida producers like Dustin Grooms must deal with: Imports from other countries continue to flood the U.S. market, driving down prices. The rise of the new Neopestalotiopsis Fruit Rot disease in the last three years has sparked concerns about the future health of the industry.
“Sustainability is in the back of everybody’s minds. How are we going to sustain it? There’s always been challenges and always been problems,” said Grooms, farm manager for Fancy Farms, in Plant City, Florida. “My dad started the farm in 1974. There’s always been challenges but it seems like the challenges are of greater concern now than they were back then.”
Neopestalotiopsis Fruit Rot
The introduction of Neopestalotiopsis Fruit Rot has devastated fields in Florida and Georgia. One grower called it the ‘citrus greening of strawberries,’ referencing the impact that the citrus disease has had on Florida’s citrus industry. Neopestalotiopsis Fruit is having similar devastation.
The disease was first discovered during the 2018-19 season in five farms and was attributed to one nursery source in North Carolina. More than 20 farms experienced the disease during the 2019-20 season, and the disease was attributed to two nursery sources early in the season in North Carolina and Canada.
It has forced farmers like Grooms to plan ahead in their sustainability efforts.
“We’re definitely going to try to be optimistic about the Neopestalotiopsis Fruit Rot disease. We’ve tried to till the ground a little bit more than we typically do, trying to really cut the old strawberry trims up. We went out with some cover crops, too. We always do,” Grooms said.
Additional Income Options
Grooms has also invested in additional forms of producing income. Along with their regular investment in the Sensation and Brilliance strawberry varieties, Grooms also plans to produce a few acres of the Florida Pearl strawberry. It’s a new University of Florida release and has garnered interest because of its unique white color and pineapple aroma.
“We’re looking to tap into some new markets on that. We hope that’s going to be a really strong market. We hope that takes off,” said Grooms, who also has expanded the business. “This past season, me and my sister opened up a produce market to sell produce. We do milkshakes and different strawberry desserts with my family’s recipes. We’re looking to expand on that and try to do more with that this year.”
It’s all part of planning ahead to stay ahead for this Florida producer. Grooms will plant his strawberry crop the first of October.