Analyze this: Professional development for berry production
Commercial berry growers in the Northeast have traditionally applied fertilizer using standard tables that vary only by crop age, despite the availability of guidelines for analysis-based fertilization and despite research demonstrating that an analysis-based approach to berry crop nutrition provides increased yields, better fruit quality, healthier plants, and reduced environmental impact. Use of soil health management practices like cover cropping, which reduces weed, nematode, and soil-borne disease pressure while improving tilth, organic matter, and nutrient content, also lags.
This two-year project, led by Dr. Marvin Pritts, Cornell University small fruit horticulturalist and berry crop nutrition specialist, aimed to bridge this gap by training a cadre of 50 educators across the Northeast. The performance target was that 15 educators would develop and deliver outreach programs reaching 150 berry growers who manage a total of 750 acres of berry crops, with 50 growers going on to conduct soil, nutrient, and soil health testing; these growers would get one-on-one help interpreting test results, and would implement analysis-based fertilization and soil health management practices on their farms.
In the first year, ag educators built berry crop nutrient and soil management expertise through a series of 12 in-depth webinars, case study learning modules, and a resource kit for use in grower training. These resources included PowerPoint presentations, handouts, a soil and leaf analysis information packet, an educator/grower manual, web materials, and a whole-farm decision tool.
Year two focused on helping educators deliver grower training and one-on-one grower consultations. The project team also helped these ag educators monitor analysis-based berry crop nutrient and soil health management by working with growers during on-farm demonstration trials.
How did things turn out? Seventy-seven educators from 13 states and Canada (with 59 from the Northeast), expanded their expertise in berry crop nutrient and soil management through the webinar series. Sixteen of these educators developed and delivered outreach programs, reaching 1,233 commercial berry growers who manage a total of 616 acres of berry crops, and also included 17 turf growers and five Christmas tree growers.
Outreach consisted of 13 stand-alone programs, 15 presentations delivered at other educational venues, and 125 one-on-one grower consultations. Additionally, another 2,195 people have viewed the YouTube versions of the recorded webinars.
Eleven of the 16 educators also mentored 40 growers who were conducting on-farm demonstration trials as part of the project. They helped farmers interpret soil, soil health, and leaf analysis test results and recommended corrective practices and also provided follow-up with growers in evaluating trial results. As a result, 19 growers who manage a total of 127 acres of berry crops made analysis-based changes to their soil and nutrient management practices.
Additional resources, including a website and a guide, will be available soon.