Mar 10, 2023
Strawberry conference draws hundreds to central California
Doug Ohlemeier, Assistant Editor

This year’s gathering of strawberry industry professionals attending the North American Strawberry Symposium (NASS) and North American Strawberry Growers Association (NASGA) annual meeting was successful and mostly finished ahead of torrential rains forecast for a large part of central and northern California.

Forecasters predict the storm’s downpours and torrential rains could cause flooding, mudslides and other hazards at the end of the March 7-10 convention, which is in San Luis Obispo. Because of the possibility of rains preventing access to muddy fields, show organizers cancelled March 10 field tours in Santa Maria, California, and a tour of Cal Poly’s Strawberry Center.

Gerald Holmes, director of the Cal Poly Strawberry Center, left, and Eric Tedford of Summit Agro USA, talk at a session during the March 7-10 North American Strawberry Symposium in San Luis Obispo, California. Photo: Doug Ohlemeier

Conference attendance is high, said Kevin Schooley, executive director of the Welland, Ontario, Canada-based NASGA. Up to 375 attendees from more than 17 countries, including South Africa, Australia and Canada, trekked to the central California coastal city to learn the latest on strawberry research and production practices.

“We have had extraordinary turnout,” Schooley said. “This show is seeing very strong attendance. It’s close to the best we have ever had for the symposium.”

Despite the weather forecast and tour cancelation, the NASS was running without problems, he said.

“The attendance shows the strong industry involvement and the vibrance in the industry,” Schooley said. “They see a lot of research going on. With COVID easing, people get to see colleagues they haven’t seen in a while. This show brings together people from different countries. The participants enjoy sharing information and networking. Many growers find suppliers here.”

Alex Russomagno, business development and strategy for Apeel Sciences, said she appreciates the fact the show draws strawberry people globally.

“Having representation outside of California is really helpful,” she said. “There’s so much data. It’s good to hear, listen and understand the landscape of the industry which is here. It’s great to see and the expertise they have here, because a reputable voice and representation of the industry is important.”

This was the first time southeast Ohio strawberry grower Todd Stacy of Stacy Family Farm, Marietta, Ohio, attended the conference, though his father, Bill Stacy, has long participated.

“We go to many strawberry conferences,” Todd Stacy said. “This show is very interesting. It’s definitely a lot more in-depth here than some others.”

Todd Stacy attended one of the sessions on automation in production and harvesting.

“The technological information is very impressive,” he said. “We have some ideas for niche marketing that we can put strawberries in, but labor would be an issue.”

The show featured numerous sessions on technology as well as other agronomic- and labor-related topics, including pest and disease management, weed control, breeding, genetics and organics.

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