common pests

Federal Funding to Support Automating the Strawberry Industry

Brian GermanBerries, Fruits & Vegetables, Funding, Industry

The California strawberry industry is getting some federal support to help advance automation efforts. The Cal Poly Strawberry Center, in partnership with the California Strawberry Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, has been awarded a grant of $1 million. This funding will be utilized to expand research in strawberry automation, paving the way for improved sustainable farming practices and workforce development within the industry. Furthermore, the funding is set to be recurring in the future, ensuring ongoing support for the initiative.

Strawberry Industry

A substantial portion of the funding will be allocated to applied research, which will help develop a skilled workforce to meet the growing demands of the industry. Director of the Cal Poly Strawberry Center, Gerald Holmes said the funding will help “train the next generation of industry stewards who will be well-versed in crop production technologies.” There are plans for providing hands-on training to graduate and undergraduate students specializing in STEM and agricultural fields. The program aims to ensure that the strawberry industry has access to highly trained graduates who can address critical issues and maintain California’s leading position in strawberry research and production.

The initial phase of the project will focus on developing advanced machinery capable of autonomously cutting runners off strawberry plants. Rick Tomlinson, California Strawberry Commission president, said the grant will go a long way toward expanding automated farming practices. Subsequent years will concentrate on technological advancements for weed and unhealthy plant material removal in commercial, open-field production. These advancements will improve harvest yields and provide a non-chemical approach to controlling pests and diseases.

The California strawberry industry accounts for 90 percent of domestic production. Strawberries are also one of the most valuable per-acre crops, contributing $5.2 billion to the state’s economy. Emphasizing automation technologies will help boost production and quality. Additionally, it will enhance the industry’s competitiveness against imports from Canada, Mexico, and China.

Brian German
Ag News Director / AgNet West