Maximizing Strawberry Crop Success

Explore how to maximize strawberry yields and fruit quality with controlled-release fertilizers, fertigation and foliar strategies, acidifying solutions and customized nutrient plans with ICL agronomist Christi Falen.

May 17, 2024
5 mins
Christi Falen
Agronomy Technical Services Manager, ICL Growing Solutions NA

Sensitive Strawberries – Understanding the Challenges

As agronomists dedicated to optimizing crop nutrition, we understand the unique challenges that commercial strawberry growers face in achieving superior yields and quality berries. Strawberries can be sensitive crops! Factors such as soil pH, water quality, nutrient availability, and disease pressure can significantly impact crop performance. To address these challenges effectively, using nutrient solutions that provide consistent nutrition, improve nutrient uptake efficiency (NUE), and enhance overall plant health is important to the success of an operation. Strawberry plants require different nutrients as they progress through various growth stages, with a high demand during flowering and fruiting. We know adapting fertilization strategies accordingly to meet seasonal demands without overloading the plants is crucial.

The Role of a Systems Approach

A combination of pre-plant controlled-release fertilizer and Polysulphate®, alongside in-season fertigation and foliar applications as needed by the strawberry crop, offers targeted nutrient delivery, ensuring that strawberries receive the essential elements they need for optimal growth and fruit production. Controlled-release fertilizers (CRFs), like Agriform® Strawberry Mix, supply a controlled nutrient release, matching the plant’s needs over time. Polysulphate is a natural mineral that provides a sustained release of nutrients that match crop demand and increase NUE. Additionally, addressing any deficiencies or specific nutrient requirements through fertigation or foliar applications ensure efficient nutrient delivery to support optimal growth and maximize yield and fruit quality.

Making a case for CRFs, plus adding Polysulphate

While CRFs might have a higher initial cost compared to conventional nutrient sources, they offer several advantages that improve profitability in the long run. In addition to longer-term nutrient release, reduced labor and application costs, and enhanced NUE, CRFs can also minimize nutrient losses and optimize fruit quality and yield. These benefits often make CRFs a preferred choice among strawberry growers looking to maximize productivity and profitability while minimizing environmental impact. Since they require fewer applications than conventional fertilizers, reducing labor and application expenses is particularly beneficial for large-scale strawberry farming operations.

ICL’s Agriform fully RESIN-coated proprietary technology regulates the rate at which nutrients are available to meet plant demands. Compared to other products, it does not release nutrients prematurely. Ultimately, uncoated fertilizers cannot be relied upon, as weather and soil conditions prematurely impact the release rates during non-target intervals of plant growth and can potentially inhibit root growth by way of salt burn if slotted too close to the root zone. A quality CRF reduces the risk of nutrient loss, ensuring plants can access and absorb the nutrients they need when they need them most.

During periods of high precipitation, for example, Agriform will already be slotted in the strawberry bed, eliminating the need to manage a liquid fertility program when field access may be limited or when irrigation is postponed due to wet soil conditions. Additionally, Agriform was developed to gradually release nutrients throughout the growing season based on temperature. It provides a valuable tool for improving NUE by releasing nutrients incrementally and reducing leachates.

Combining Agriform with Polysulphate over the last two winter seasons showed yield and quality benefits in coastal California. Polysulphate contains potassium, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium but can also help with building healthier roots and NUE for nitrogen and phosphorous. Agriform 18-8-13 (5-6 month release) at 500 lbs./acre plus Polysulphate® at 300 lb./acre increased strawberry yield and quality in a year with unfavorable weather (lower yields overall were experienced relative to other years due to excess rain for extended periods) (Holden Research and Consulting, 2022-23, CA).

Agriform Strawberry Mix at 99 lbs./acre N and Agrolution pHLow fertigation (blue flag below, 2018, CA) produced 170 more flats per acre than the grower standard in a nearby trial in the same field, indicating synergies with Agriform and the post-plant water-soluble fertility program designed by ICL.

Marketable strawberries - ICL Agriform Strawberry and Polysulphate Trial

Agriform Strawberry Mix at 99 lbs./acre N and Agrolution pHLow fertigation (blue flag below, 2018, CA) produced 170 more flats per acre than the grower standard.

Strategic Use of Fertigation and Foliar Fertilizers

Acidifying fertigation fertilizers, like Agrolution® pHLow or Nova PeKacid®, offer several additional benefits, particularly in regions with alkaline soils or hard water conditions. They not only create an optimal soil pH environment in the rhizosphere, ideal for enhancing the uptake of essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, and micronutrients, but they can also help mitigate water quality issues and reduce bicarbonate buildup in drip irrigation lines.

Both fertigation and foliar solutions offer strawberry growers a versatile and efficient tool for addressing nutrient deficiencies, improving NUE, and optimizing plant nutrition to maximize yield and quality. Foliar applied nutrients absorbed through the leaves, allowing plants to absorb essential elements quickly, are vital during critical growth stages when plants may need extra nutrients to thrive. When a neutral pH is needed, Nova HiPeak® (0-44-44) is a versatile water-soluble fertilizer for both foliar and fertigation applications. Nova PeaK® (0-52-34) is lightly acidic (pH of 4.5 for a 1% solution) but can also be used for fertigating and foliar nutrition.

Proven in Strawberries

  • Agriform Strawberry Mix: Agriform Strawberry Mix is an industry standard. This premium controlled-release fertilizer is specifically formulated for strawberry cultivation. With its unique 100% resin-coated N-P-K granules, Agriform delivers consistent nutrition to growing plants throughout the entire crop cycle. By releasing nutrients in sync with the plant’s needs, Agriform maximizes yield potential, enhances fruit quality, and ensures a strong return on investment for growers while minimizing nutrient losses.
  • Agrolution pHLow and Nova PeKacid: These acidifying fertilizers are great for growers tackling pH management issues in their strawberry fields and irrigation water. They help create an optimal pH environment for strawberry plants, improving nutrient availability and uptake. Agrolution pHLow promotes healthier plants, higher yields, and superior fruit quality, and it has a wide range of analyses available.

Tailoring Solutions to Grower Needs

At ICL, we understand that every strawberry operation is unique, with its own soil, climate, crop, and operational challenges. That’s why we offer customized nutrient solutions that address growers’ specific needs and objectives. Our agronomy experts work closely with growers to develop tailored fertility programs, integrating different products into our recommendations to achieve optimal results. In the competitive world of commercial strawberry farming, success often hinges on effective nutrient management strategies. With consistent nutrition, improved nutrient uptake, and enhanced plant health, ICL’s nutrient solutions pave the way for superior yields, exceptional fruit quality, and sustained profitability in the strawberry fields. Connect with us today to learn more about our advanced nutrient solutions and how they can transform your farming operation. We love finding the best growing solutions for your specific needs!