05/11/06 — Press on! Berry research is worthwhile

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Press on! Berry research is worthwhile

For years, efforts have been made at N.C. State University to develop a better strawberry. Not better from the standpoint of taste, but one that will bear longer and have a better shelf life.

It is a good — but elusive — cause. Farmers can make $1,500 an acre on strawberries. Except for tobacco, other crops don’t come close, according to one recent news account.

The problem is that the strawberry season runs only about a month and a half.

Research has focused on developing a variety that might offer a longer season, or both a spring and fall season which could double the annual revenue per acre.

But the experimental varieties have failed to come up with berries that are acceptable in taste or appearance.

A recent article in the Raleigh News & Observer noted that the research at State has been financed by strawberry growers themselves. They have invested around $7,000 a year in the effort. While hundreds of experimental varieties have been tested, it still is a part-time project for the university.

Some individual farmers also have conducted their own experiments.

And so far, there have been no acceptable results, either at the university or on the individual farms.

But while it sometimes might seem to be like looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the effort should not only continue but be intensified. N.C. State researchers have a great record of success in improving field crop species, forests and in livestock production.

At this writing, only around 1,600 acres of strawberries are grown in our state each year. The berries are marketed almost entirely from roadside stands or through “you pick” operations. And the season is only six weeks.

If North Carolina can produce a berry with a longer shelf life and plants that can produce from spring through fall, it will be a boon to the state’s agricultural economy.

Published in Editorials on May 11, 2006 10:52 AM