Since first pioneering drip irrigation in the 1970s, California’s strawberry farmers continue to serve as global leaders in developing sustainable strawberry farming practices to reduce negative impacts to air, water and land, according to a report  issued by the California Strawberry Commission.
“Investing in a Sustainable Future”  chronicles the contributions of the state’s family farmers to protecting the environment along California’s Central Coast. It captures more than forty years of sustainable practices – from water conservation and ozone protection to pesticide reduction and the broad-based incorporation of organic farming methods among California’s strawberry farmers, said commission officials.
“This report substantiates why California has the best strawberry farmers in the world,” said Mark Murai, president of the California Strawberry Commission and a third-generation strawberry farmer. “We are among the most progressive and environmentally conscious around the globe.”
Murai also noted the commission’s ongoing commitment to innovation and research; farmers have invested millions of dollars in research to find viable alternatives to fumigant pesticides.
Highlights of the report include the following:
Organics: California’s network of family strawberry farmers grows more organic strawberries than any place in the world, including more than the rest of the entire United States combined. An estimated one in every five farmers in the state grows both organic and conventional strawberries.
California strawberry farmers have reduced the use of pesticides by employing a wide range of practices, including a reliance on organic farming methods such as:
• Mechanical bug vacuums to suck up harmful insects.
• Hand weeding to reduce chemical herbicide use.
• Ladybugs and other beneficial insects released into the field to eradicate harmful bugs without pesticides.
When pesticides are used, Murai said, they are applied sparingly, with care. By using fumigants to clean soil before crops are planted, strawberry farmers use fewer pesticides during a growing season.
Research: California strawberry farmers have invested more than $13 million into research projects to find viable alternatives to fumigants, which clean the soil of disease and protect strawberry fields from devastation. This effort includes a joint initiative with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. The commission report details the alternative methods under study, although no viable practical alternative has yet been found.
Water: California strawberry farmers were among the first farmers in California agriculture to use drip irrigation as tool for conserving water. Additionally, strawberries require less water per acre than an acre of homes in Los Angeles.
Land: Strawberry farmers provide the last line of defense against development. When farming is no longer viable in communities from Santa Cruz to Ventura, condos, homes, strip malls and traffic congestion fill that open space. California strawberry growers protect an estimated 40,000 acres of farmland along California’s Central Coast.
Air: California strawberry farmers earned recognition for protecting air quality in 2008, receiving the U.S. EPA Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award. Strawberry farmers also employ innovative solar-powered equipment to limit diesel and gasoline emissions. They use impermeable plastic tarps over fields to limit pesticide emissions, and spend more than $10 million annually to recycle that plastic.
“California strawberry farmers are proud of their legacy and commitment to protecting the environment,’ said Murai. “This is a continuous process, and we will remain dedicated to research and innovation for a sustainable future.”