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July 17, 2014
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Ripening in mid-winter. Taking root in old cotton acres. Growing
organic in conventional farms. America’s favorite berry is finding itself in places
it’s never been before thanks to research, creativity and a donation from the world’s
Each of these new directions was grown from a $3 million donation from the Walmart
Foundation to the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Center for
Rural and Agricultural Sustainability, known as CARS. Last year’s donation gave birth
to the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative and would fuel 20 research projects
in 13 states.
All of the innovations have one aim: to provide U.S. consumers with the freshest berries
raised in the most sustainable way possible everywhere they’re grown, from small family
farms to cooperatives. It’s no small target either. Strawberry production was valued
at $2.4 billion in 2012, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. And USDA
says they are the fifth favorite fruit among American consumers, prized for its sweet
taste and good-for-you versatility in the kitchen.
“At Walmart we support the issues our customers and communities care about most –sustainability
being one of them,” said Dorn Wenninger, Vice President of Produce and Floral, Walmart.
“We’re excited to help the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative enter Phase
II where we’ll see innovation at work in the fields. As a result, we’ll have a better
understanding of how to sustainably increase production and supply of one of our nation’s
New donation, new phase
A new $1.05 million donation from the Walmart Foundation is providing fuel for some
of the researchers to prove their concepts in the field. From a competitive grants
process, six projects working in nine states emerged to share $845,000 in funding
from the new donation.
“If last year’s work was all about exploration and innovation, Phase II moves the
initiative ‘From Demonstration to Implementation’,” said Curt Rom, horticulture director
In May, the project team members presented their research at a summit held at Fayetteville’s
“There was an obvious energy in the room with the reports and the conference created
strong synergy among the cooperators,” Rom said. “This program has clearly made significant
impacts that will continue to grow. I feel certain that we will see more, better,
higher quality strawberries which have been sustainably produced locally, regionally,
and nationally enter our markets.”
Learning from Phase I
Michelle Schroeder-Moreno, associate professor of Agroecology at North Carolina State
University, has one of the six projects that are moving into the second phase. Her
team is focused on sustainable soil and pest management, in part taking practices
used in organic growing systems and using them in conventional berry growing.
“Phase II is what I’m really excited about. It’s not just doing the research, but
also taking it into the adoption process,” she said. The first year’s project taught
her team some key lessons. “We are learning from it. We’re not talking about traditional
research – here’s a report for another journal. It’s ‘how do we make it usable. This
is what we need to be doing more of.”
Taking a chance on berries
Russ Wallace, associate professor and extension horticulturist at Texas A&M, leads
another of the six projects. His project works both ends of the strawberry spectrum
in trying to increase the number of growers and encourage consumers to buy locally
“Our Phase II project will add new growers willing to give strawberries a try on a
small scale, and will also connect AgriLife Extension horticulture agents with growers
in their counties to enable both the growers and the agent to gain experience growing
strawberries,” he said.
Some of the new growers have turned cotton acreage into homes for high tunnels. “We’ll
never replace cotton, but growers are looking for other ways to get cash,” Wallace
“Our eventual goal is to greatly increase our state’s current strawberry production
acreage, now only at about 150 acres, to the point where we can all easily enjoy what
could well become a uniquely Texas treat,” he said.
The phase II projects are:
Learn more about the National Sustainable Strawberry Initiative at http://strawberry.uark.edu/.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers its programs to all
eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age,
disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status, and
is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
All meetings and activities announced in this news release are open to all eligible
persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability,
marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status. Persons with disabilities
who require alternative means for communication of program information (large print,
audiotapes, etc.) should notify the county Extension office as soon as possible prior
to the activity.
By Mary HightowerU of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Mary HightowerDir. of Communication ServicesU of A Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service(501) email@example.com