Strategies to increase strawberries competitiveness.
Strawberries are juicy fruits with a unique aroma and a bright red color. In Kenya, strawberries are high-value crops with high demand and competitive prices in the local and export markets. They have many health benefits and a high nutritional value. For instance, they are rich in dietary fiber, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins.
Compared to other fruits, berries can be a regular source of income since they can be harvested up to three times per week. They are easy to care for, harvest, and mature within a short time. However, to succeed in strawberry farming, you need to grow the right varieties, employ the correct management practices, and use proper marketing channels.
Here is what you should do to succeed:
Plant the best varieties
Here is a list of varieties that you should grow in Kenya:
- Tioga Selva
Understand the ecological conditions necessary for strawberry farming
Strawberry plants require moderate and well-distributed rainfall, although they can still be grown under irrigation in drier areas.
Although they can grow in a wide range of soils, they perform best in deep, fertile, and well-drained soils with a pH range of 5.5 – 6.5. It’s crucial to conduct a soil test before planting. This will help you make any necessary amendments on time.
Besides, they require at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day, cool temperatures, and an altitude range of 1500m to 2000m.
Ensure that you use proper spacing and planting practices
Unlike other fruit plants, strawberries only require little spacing of about 90cm to 120cm between the rows and 30cm to 60cm between the plants. An acre can hold between 15000 to 25000 plants depending on the spacing. During planting, ensure that you handle the seedlings with care.
To help farmers establish their fruit-farming venture, OxfarmAg Ltd has come up with a cost-effective package that includes:
- Free consultancy
- Certified strawberry seedlings
- Organic well-decomposed manure (earthlee)
- Labor (digging holes, planting)
- Market connection
- Lifetime agronomy support
Employ proper orchard management practices
Although they need little care, there are certain practices that you should employ for optimum growth and increased yields. Strawberries require regular irrigation, especially in drier areas or when grown in a greenhouse, due to their shallow roots. Besides, you need to ensure that the orchard is weed-free.
For optimum growth, you need to apply fertilizers and manure regularly. The plants tend to blossom earlier, and fruits ripen faster when the correct quantity of fertilizer is used.
Besides, you need to control pests and diseases on time. Strawberries are attacked by pests such as snails, slugs, ants, crown borers, leafhoppers, caterpillars, cutworms, red spider mites, aphids, beetles, and birds. They are susceptible to diseases such powdery mildew, anthracnose, Sclerotinia disease, grey mold, leaf spots, Fusarium and Verticillium wilt, and leaf scorch.
Harvesting and Post harvesting
Fruits are usually ready for harvesting 4 – 6 weeks after blossoming. You should harvest your fruits in the morning when they are still cool, and you can harvest up to thrice per week. Unfortunately, strawberries are highly perishable. They should be refrigerated if you are planning to lengthen the shelf life. Improper post-harvest handling lowers the fruit quality and makes them have an unpleasant appearance. This can cause massive losses to small-scale farmers. Farmers should consider investing in cold chain facilities and value addition to increase the shelf life of their produce.
Over the years, the demand for strawberries has increased dramatically. Locally, it is highest in major urban markets, supermarkets, juice makers, and processing companies such as Trufood, Brookside, KCC, and Zesta. Farmers should target the high-end markets and consider following the value addition way to increase their revenue.
Strawberries are used extensively in making yogurt, sauces, jams, jellies, dehydrated slices, juices, and sweetened preserves. Besides, they are used in whole frozen berries and canned products.
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