Strawberry Production Systems - Matted Row versus Plasticulture
One of the most common questions we get - whether it is from first time, brand new strawberry growers or existing growers looking to expand their acreage - is on production systems. Should they go with the traditional, “tried and true” matted row system or consider plasticulture? When it comes down to it, the best system to choose is based on the unique needs of your specific operation. Below, though, we have outlined, based on grower experience, as well as fruit production at Nourse Farms, the pros and cons of each system.
• Long established successful and profitable system that is widely planted throughout the northern U.S.
• Low initial investment costs. At a recommended spacing within the row of 18” and 40” between rows, plant density would be 8,800 plants per acre. No need for plastic and there is flexibility in irrigation systems.
• Pick-Your Own operations have historically used the matted row system leading to strong customer acceptance.
• Proven adaptation to colder climates versus plasticulture.
• With good weed control, your planting could produce for up to 5 years.
• Weed control can be difficult, particularly in the establishment year, due to the lack of effective herbicides.
• Lower picking efficiency as fruit is not easily accessible compared to the plasticulture system.
• Yields can vary dramatically from 3,000 – 20,000 pounds per acre depending on management practices.
• Increased picking efficiency of at least 20% that lowers costs long term.
• Weed control is much simpler and is limited primarily to between the rows.
• Bigger berries with longer shelf life, particularly with the use of straw mulch.
• Higher consistent yields in the range of 16,000+ per acre.
• Controlled timing of fruiting.
• Vegetable growers with experience growing on plastic and with drip irrigation find the system easier to work with versus matted row.
• Higher upfront costs. In addition to plastic and drip irrigation, higher plant density of 18,000 plants per acre
• Planting by hand is the only option. Machine planting has not been successful for growers.
• Trickier establishment due to planting in the heat of the summer.
• Late planting dates in June and July coincide with harvest times of strawberries as well as other crops.
• Three fruiting years versus up to 5 years with matted row.
• Winter injury risk may be higher given the height the plants sit at. Use of straw mulch for winter protection is a must in northern areas.