Priority 1: Increase the production season and regional diversity of U.S. strawberry production

Sustainable off-season production of high quality hydroponic strawberry in desert southwest


Project Leaders

Kubota photo 2

  • Chieri Kubota, University of Arizona, Controlled Environment Agriculture Center
  • Mark Kroggel, University of Arizona, Controlled Environment Agriculture Center

  Project Collaborators

  • Ian Justus, Driscoll's Strawberry Associates, Inc.
  • Seiji Matsuda, AGC Green-Tech, Japan
  • Kelly Young, University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Cooperative Extension

Project Summary

The goal of this project was to establish sustainable off-season hydroponic strawberry production in the desert Southwest. There is a strong greenhouse industry in the Southwest that primarily focuses on year-round tomato production, but strawberries are an untapped market that offers the potential for greenhouse growers to diversify and remain competitive. Objectives of the project were to (1) develop effective hydroponic production methods while quantifying cost of production; (2) develop a system for starting strawberry plugs from seed; and (3) communicate resulting information to stakeholders. Two different hydroponic systems were compared for Arizona winter greenhouse strawberry production: a Japanese Styrofoam trough system and a Dutch bucket system. In each of the systems Kubota's group examined the performance of two day-neutral cultivars, 'Albion' and 'Portola.' Commercial viability was determined through an economic analysis. The team also developed a one-of-a-kind hydroponic strawberry information website and reached out to stakeholders through workshops and one-on-one communication.  

Kubota project photo 1Project Outputs and Impacts  

Winter strawberry production was successfully demonstrated using two different raised trough systems and achieved a record-high yield of greenhouse strawberries (2.0 to 2.6 lb/ft2). This project concluded that the system is profitable, with production costs of $3.31/ft2 and benchmark yields at 1.4 lb/ft2. Between the two cultivars grown, "Portola" was the higher producer (at 1.6 kg per plant compared to 1.2 kg per plant from "Albion"). Out of the systems tested, Styrofoam troughs showed advantages during midwinter to early spring when air temperatures were cooler. Another discovery was that an under-bench misting system proved an effective strategy for preventing tip burn of the strawberry leaves by increasing nighttime humidity. The project hosted two one-day workshops in Tucson, which attracted 60 attendees from seven Western states and Mexico. The findings from the project have been shared at three grower conferences, two outreach events, and have been made available on the Hydroponic Strawberry Information Website and Project Blog. Since the launch of this project, two commercial greenhouse operations in Canada have announced that they will start producing and marketing hydroponic strawberries, demonstrating the relevance and potential of this production system.