Strawberry or Fragaria vesca is an important fruit crop of India. It is not only nutritious but has commercial importance too.
Shankar Bavalekar, a strawberry farmer from Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra has been growing strawberries on his 2 acres of land. The farmer earns approximately Rs 20 lakh profits from the harvest of 4 months.
Like Shankar Bavalekar, there are many farmers in India, who have been successfully growing the fruit and earning a stable livelihood.
Strawberry farming in India
The production of strawberries is possible in temperate and sub-tropical areas of the country. It is cultivated in Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, and Rajasthan. The sub-tropical areas in Jammu also have the potential to grow the crop under irrigated conditions.
Strawberry farming requires an apt climatic condition, temperature, soil condition, and proper irrigation for the healthy growth of the fruit. It needs a daylight period of 12 hours or less and moderate temperature is important for flower bud formation.
According to Bavalekar, hill stations and cold climatic conditions are very good for strawberry farming. It requires around 15 to 35 degrees Celsius of temperature and heavy rainfall, or fog damages the crop. Further, it requires red or black soil, a good water drainage system so that water is not retained in the soil, terrain, or non-flat surface.
Hydroponics in Strawberry farming
Shankar Bavalekar has also opted for hydroponics for growing strawberries. Apart from traditional land farming, he has also been experimenting with hydroponics.
Hydroponics is a technique where the plant is grown in nutritious water instead of soil. He believes that in the future, hydroponics will be the answer to the growing lack of space for farming.
According to Bavalekar, in a small patch of land, farming is possible and more profit can be earned through hydroponic techniques.
Polyhouse strawberry farming
Strawberries can also be grown using the polyhouse farming system. Growing strawberries under polyhouse decrease the dependence of fruit quality on climate and soil conditions. Such a cultivation system also enables better water, light, and temperature control to a certain extent. It protects the crops from heavy rainfall, strong wind and provides enough heat for the plant to grow.
Varieties and marketing
Shankar Bavalekar says that he does not face any problem in selling or marketing his produce, due to the nutritional value and demand for the fruit. Moreover, the fruit is used for making jelly, jams, ice creams, syrups, and more, which is an advantage and poses no problem in its sale.
Strawberries are rich in vitamin C and iron. Some of its varieties, Olympus, Hood, and Shuksan have high flavour and are bright red in colour, suitable for ice-cream making. Other varieties like Midway, Midland, Cardinal, Hood, Redchief, and Beauty are ideal for processing.
While Shankar Bavalekar grows strawberry varieties like Sweet Charlie and Nabila. However, other strawberry varieties cultivated in India are Chandler, Tioga, Torrey, Selva, Belrubi, Fern, and Pajaro. Other varieties include Premier, Red cost, Local Jeolikot, Dilpasand, Bangalore, Florida 90, Katrain Sweet, Pusa Early Dwarf & Blakemore.
Shankar buys the plant from a nursery. He readies the land by plowing it two to four times with good quality compost and fertilizers to protect it from fungus and pests. The ideal time is the month of September to October.
Strawberries can easily be propagated, matures early, and have a high yield with 5-9% sugar content. To boost its production, one needs to develop infrastructure facilities for the transport of produce to primary markets as the fruit is highly perishable and can get damaged easily.
Strawberry farming: A continuous effort
Unlike other farmings, Strawberry farming requires constant effort and looking after the crop. The risk involved is high as a slight change in temperature or climate can cause damage to the crop, in addition to the fear of pest or fungus attack. Shankar and other farmers like him use sprinklers to maintain the temperature required for strawberry farming. The other important aspect to it is that water should drain out, otherwise it can damage the crop.
Further, the packaging of the fruit requires careful uprooting. Shankar says that the harvested fruit should be consumed within few days of it being plucked. Packing is done according to the grades for long-distance markets. Fruits of good quality are packed in perforated cardboard cartons with paper cuttings as cushioning material.