How to Overcome Challenges in Berry Growing with CEA
By John Bergman, Grower Advisor
Berry producers are making great inroads when growing crops, such as strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, in substrates. Some of the advantages they are seeing are: reduced labor requirements, increased yield, and targeted harvest windows to get the best prices for crops. Inevitably, an increasing number of growers are moving in this direction to take advantage of these opportunities. However, there are some significant challenges these growers may face.
One thing to consider is the cost of setting up a proper system. Are you growing strawberries and want to install a tabletop to get the crop off the ground and increase harvest efficiency? You will also need to purchase containers and an irrigation system to deliver the water uniformly. If you are going to recycle your irrigation water, you must find a way of recapturing the water, which also has to be monitored and treated. When using your recycled water, it will be important to make sure it is free of pathogens and to derive the best nutrients using your irrigation system.
One of the biggest challenges for growers is to learn how to manage the irrigation in substrate containers. Berry growers are highly skilled at growing in a field environment—but growing in substrates is very different. In fields, you may only need to irrigate a few times a week. With substrate growing, you could be watering 10 to 20 times a day. This means that if a pump or water line breaks, you do not have days to make the repair; crop damage could occur within hours. Your current irrigation system for field growing is not going to work for growing in substates. You will also have to determine what type of drip system to use as well as the control system to efficiently manage frequency.
What is the best way to manage the amount of water your crop will receive? There are a lot of factors that come into play regarding how much irrigation your crop needs at certain points in time. Environmental considerations, such as humidity, light levels, and temperature levels, have a direct effect. The growth stage of your crop, along with the container size and shape, also have an impact. You want to make sure you always have the appropriate amount of oxygen, moisture, and nutrients available for your crop. Berry crops, raspberries, do not like wet feet; you want to make sure there is a good amount of oxygen available for the root system so that the plant is not drowning in water because of over saturation. There are some great tools out there that can help growers monitor and control irrigation.
One of the most important aspects of container growing is using the right substrate. An effective, high-quality substrate is needed to anchor the plant and make water and nutrients available when the crops need them. The substrate needs to have enough porosity to create an active root system that provides sufficient oxygen. This will give the grower the ability to steer the crop towards the desired results. The physical and chemical characteristics of the substrate must be stable over the entire duration of the crop production to maximize the yield.
At Berger, we can help you select from our selection of high-quality substrates that will work exceptionally well in your CEA productions. Reach out to our grower advisors to get more information on growing berries in substrates.