Strawberry Field Day slated March 28 in Weslaco

WESLACO – The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service will hold a Strawberry Field Day from 1:30-3 p.m. March 28 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco.

Dr. Juan Anciso, an AgriLife Extension fruit and vegetable specialist, will lead discussions at the upcoming Strawberry Field Day to be held March 28 in Weslaco. (AgriLife Communications photo by Rod Santa Ana)

Dr. Juan Anciso, an AgriLife Extension fruit and vegetable specialist, will lead discussions at the upcoming Strawberry Field Day to be held March 28 in Weslaco. (AgriLife Communications photo by Rod Santa Ana)

The center is located at 2415 E. U.S. Highway 83 in Weslaco.

“I’m convinced that Texas can play a far greater role in providing strawberries to a huge market currently dominated by other states,” said Dr. Juan Anciso, an AgriLife Extension fruit and vegetable specialist in Weslaco.

For several months, Anciso has been growing strawberries as part of a one-year grant from the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative, funded by the Walmart Foundation and administered by the University of Arkansas Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability.

Anciso is part of the Texas Strawberry Project Team, whose goal is to make strawberries a mainstream Texas-produced delicacy.

“Strawberries rank among the top five most popular fresh fruits consumed in the U.S., which produces about 27 percent of the world supply,” he said. “California and Florida currently account for the vast majority, 98 percent, of the nation’s strawberry production. I think much more could be produced here in Texas, which would offer huge advantages to both the growers and consumers.”

Lower Rio Grande Valley conditions are apparently favorable for growing plump, tasty strawberries. (AgriLife Communications photo by Rod Santa Ana)

Lower Rio Grande Valley conditions are apparently favorable for growing plump, tasty strawberries. (AgriLife Communications photo by Rod Santa Ana)

Locally grown strawberries could be a profitable alternative crop for Texas growers, while consumers enjoy a fresher, tastier product, he said.

Anciso had planned to hold a field day two months ago to share his knowledge with the public, but was delayed by uninvited “guests.”

“We planted transplants in early November and started production near Christmas,” he said. “My plan was to hold a strawberry field day in late January, but possums, raccoons and even birds demolished my crop.”

Fencing off the strawberry patch with chicken wire a couple of feet tall, plus other control methods did the trick. By Valentine’s Day, production had returned; bright red, fragrant strawberries littered the ground again.

Similar strawberry demonstration plots have been set up at various Texas A&M AgriLife or University System facilities throughout the state, including College Station, Lubbock and Uvalde.

Each plot is evaluating eight strawberry varieties, grown on both open ground and under what are called high tunnels, large plastic covered structures designed to offer protection from the environment to the dark green, close-cropped plants, Anciso said.

“The tunnels are covered with shade cloth that can be rolled up on the sides as needed to retain or release solar heat,” he said. “They are open-ended, which allows farm equipment to move through them, and they lack any type of heat or humidity controls like a greenhouse would have.

“Here in South Texas they might serve to fend off cold winter temperatures, but we’ve found that the plants outside the tunnel are doing much better than those under the tunnel.”

Barbara Storz, an AgriLife Extension horticulturist in Edinburg, said Valley conditions are favorable to producing enticing strawberries.

“We can produce some of the largest, tastiest strawberries I’ve ever had,” she said. “Anybody even remotely interested should attend this field day because, while there’s a lot to learn, strawberry production here can be a valuable commodity. Those attending will have an opportunity to taste some of the strawberries produced in this trial.”

Also scheduled to talk, in addition to Anciso, is Dr. Larry Stein, associate department head and program leader for Extension horticulture, professor and Extension horticulturist, Uvalde.

Stein will provide an update on the state’s strawberry project and discuss strawberry production in Poteet, near San Antonio.

For more information, contact Anciso at 956-968-5581 or 956-383-1026.

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