Arizonans could soon be eating the most delicious strawberries - Tucson News Now

Arizonans could someday be eating the most delicious strawberries

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Growing better strawberries in the desert.

A University of Arizona research team is working on a process for doing that.

What's happening in its greenhouse could create a revolution in Tucson and the rest of Arizona.

The researchers are growing strawberries for winter harvest, and they expect someday the berries will among the most delicious anyone has ever had.

The idea?

Well, it was born far away in memories of eating delicious strawberries grown in Japan.

It's said necessity is the mother of invention.

That's what drove Dr. Chieri Kubota, a professor in the UA School of Plant Sciences

"Quality of strawberry fruit available in American supermarkets is--to be honest--it's horrible," Kubota says with a laugh. "So I thought we have to do something."

Dr. Kubota decided to grow winter strawberries hydroponically in a greenhouse.

There's no soil.

That means no pests or weeds that come with soil.

However, Kubota also found there was no research, nothing to tell her how to go about doing it.

Team member, UA Research Specialist Mark Kroggel, says, "What we ran into was very little information on how to grow strawberries hydroponically in a greenhouse, and especially in Arizona."

Kroggel says it's actually very easy to grow a strawberry plant, but coaxing a fruit from the plant is what's difficult.

He says Arizona has the sunshine and the cold nights needed for the sweetest fruit, but strawberries also like the misty California coast.

So something had to be done to make them feel at home in a greenhouse in Tucson.

Kroggel came up with a solution.

"So, for example, we have an under-bench fog system that runs just a little bit at night--just enough to get the humidity high at night, just like happens in coastal California when the fog rolls in," Kroggel says.

Kubota is hoping eventually these strawberries will be grown in Tucson or Willcox or elsewhere in Arizona for Arizonans.

Most U.S.-grown strawberries are from open fields in California and they're shipped all across the country.

Kubota say those growers trade taste for shelf life.

She wants it to be different for Arizona-grown, greenhouse strawberries.

"By targeting local production you can select really good, flavorful varieties that may not survive in a standard conventional distribution chain," she says. "We're concentrating on flavor. California is concentrating on shelf life."

Working on this since 2009, Dr. Kubota and her team continue testing, perfecting.

One of the next crops will include varieties from Japan.

"We want to test different varieties. We are hoping to find a variety that works very well in Arizona climate and then also meet my expectation of flavor and quality," Kubota says.

What her team learns, they'll be sharing with farmers who want to take the research to the next level.

"So this a great opportunity for Arizona growers to introduce or test out strawberry production for local consumption," Kubota says.

She says, long ago, there was winter strawberry production in Arizona.

Her dream is to reestablish it.

Kubota says about 90% of strawberries grown in this country are grown in California.

If anything should ever happen there, most of the U.S. strawberry crop would be wiped out.

So, the broader reason for this research is to spread strawberries to other parts of the country to sustain them.

The grant for this sustainability research comes from the Walmart Foundation.

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