Aug 7, 2023
Cal Pol Strawberry Center Field Day sets attendance record

Nearly 500 strawberry growers, shippers, processors, researchers and agricultural stakeholders gathered for the seventh annual Cal Poly Strawberry Center Field Day.

The event, on Aug. 3, is the largest research and education event for the California strawberry industry and showcased the latest in innovative farming technology and research to better combat challenges faced by growers.

Student presenting strawberry research
Students presented research during the Cal Poly Strawberry Center Field Day on Aug. 3. Photos courtesy of Cal Poly Strawberry Center.

“The Strawberry Center Field Day gives growers the opportunity to see their investments in research in action,” Allen Davis, chairman of the board at the California Strawberry Commission, said in a news release. “It’s exciting to see this partnership between the California Strawberry Commission and the Cal Poly Strawberry Center bring together growers, students and researchers to develop more efficient and sustainable tools that are being used today California strawberry ranches.”

New research findings and tools in the areas of automation, pathology and entomology were presented and displayed by students, researchers and California Strawberry Commission staff. Examples of integrated pest management projects included the development of disease-resistant plant cultivars, nighttime UV-C light treatment to manage pests and disease, and an optimized bug vacuum that sucks up pests as it rolls through fields mounted to a tractor.

Cal Poly Strawberry Center research
A display of berries shows the conditions of the fruit days after harvest.

“The Cal Poly Strawberry Center creates a strong synergistic relationship with the students, researchers and the strawberry industry,” Neil Nagata, Oceanside strawberry grower, said in the release. “California is leading the way in strawberry farming, not just in volume, but in innovative, sustainable practices that have been adopted around the world.”

The Strawberry Center was formed in 2014 as a partnership between the California Strawberry Commission and Cal Poly aimed at increasing the sustainability of California’s $3 billion strawberry industry through research and education.

Federal grant to expand automation research

Recently, the strawberry center was awarded a $1 million reoccurring federal grant to expand its research in strawberry automation.

The funding, awarded through the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023” bill, was championed by members of the California delegation in the House and Senate and will be reoccurring.

The program will bring together farmers, entrepreneurs, researchers, educators and students to focus on development and deployment of innovative automation and mechanization technologies related to planting, pruning, pest management, picking and processing in the strawberry industry. Funds will support applied research in the field and help foster a workforce pipeline to support sustainable food production needed to meet the demands of a growing population.

Strawberry bug vacuum
This tractor is equipped with vacuums designed to remove lygus bugs from strawberry plants.

With this funding, the Cal Poly Strawberry Center will provide hands-on training to graduate and undergraduate students from a mix of STEM and agricultural fields, with the goal of developing technologies to enhance workforce efficiency and safety while mitigating risks from pests and disease. Students will be challenged to think creatively about real-world solutions, with an emphasis on current issues in the industry.

“This project will train the next generation of industry stewards who will be well-versed in crop production technologies and prepare them to become future leaders in agricultural technology,” Gerald Holmes, director of the Cal Poly Strawberry Center, said in a news release.

The program will supply the industry with graduates who possess the capabilities and formal training necessary to tackle an array of critical issues, find solutions and keep California’s strawberry industry at the frontline of research and production.

“The California Strawberry Commission and the Strawberry Center are constantly working to provide California strawberry family farming operations with the latest in farming automation, and this grant will certainly aid expanding automated farming practices,” Rick Tomlinson, California Strawberry Commission president, said in the release.

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