Strawberry COVID Chores March/April 2020

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Strawberry COVID Chores March/April 2020

Dear strawberry community,

All of you have blossoms and fruit in their fields by now, and strawberry season is right around the corner, about 2 weeks early. Please be aware that there is still a larger risk of frost nights until mid April in most areas, so don’t put away your row covers as of yet! At the same time, many have questions regarding their operations and the way berries can be sold under COVID regulations. Here are the main strawberry chores under the COVID Situation:

Regular chores:

  1. Fertilization: Fertilize through the drip line according to the Strawberry Fertility Guidelines (pdf)
  2. Sample tissue samples, according to the Strawberry Fertility Guidelines every 14 days
  3. If you have used a lot of row covers, sanitize the field and remove the old leaves BEFORE spraying a fungicide.
  4. Scout or mites, trhips, powdery mildew and anthracnose.
  5. We see a lot of disease this year in strawberry fields in March, with Gray Mold (Botrytis) being the largest problem. Usually you would send samples to UGA Plant Molecular Diagnostic Lab in Tifton, GA. to assess for fungicide resistance. Due to Covid-19, the Diagnostic lab is not providing this service at the time! 

Following recommendations were made by Dr. Guido Schnabel (Clemson University) and Dr. Phillip Brennan (UGA) for the control of Gray-Mold and Anthracnose:

  • Primarily use multisites such as thiram and captan to control Botrytis and Anthracnose
  • Use single site FRAC Codes when infection pressure increases (prior to major rain events (more than 24 hours of rain at mild temperatures)). Please use the NC State Weather Based Forecasting Tool to predict spray needs. It will take a few seconds to load.
  • Do not use the same FRAC code twice in a row and not more than twice in a season
  • Do not use FRAC1 and FRAC11 for Botrytis control (too many resistance issues)
  • If you are using FRAC7/11 mixtures, preferably use Merivon and Luna Sensation over Pristine
  • Switch and Miravis Prime contain fludioxonil (FRAC 12), which is currently the heavy hitter of anthracnose and botrytis. Those products should also not be overused. Do not apply any product containing fludioxonil more than 2 to 3 times per season.
  • Try to avoid QoIs (Abound, Pristine) as much as possible.
  • Please use rates according to the Southern Small Fruit Consortiums Strawberry IPM Guide.

Covid-19 Questions:

  1. Do I and my workers need to have documentation for the shelter in place order? YES!!!! You will need this document: Notice of Essential Food and Agriculture Employee (PDF) (The organization should complete and sign the form, which their designated employees can keep with them during necessary work activities and travel); Letter to N.C. Law Enforcement Regarding Essential Food and Agriculture Employees (PDF) (letter to law enforcement: copy for your records)
  2. U-Pick operations: Please follow the U-Pick food-safety guidelines:  U-Pick Food Safety Guidelines (pdf). One question has arised today on how to keep a crew safe if cleaning up after the customer: Please give it 2-3 hours lag time after the last customer leaves the field, make sure that each crew member maintains at least 6 feet distance to each other,  make sure that disinfectants are being used to clean hands, and that gloves are being used. 
  3. Small Farms: Sales: Smaller, local farms most likely experience an increase in sales, due to a larger number of local customers being able to come out. To sell your strawberries efficiently while keeping social distance to your customers, please follow the Guidance for Farm Stands (pdf). Many, if not all the sales can also be arranged as pre-paid pick-up. The Facebook Marketplace is a great option to do that, and is already used by some farmers.
  4. Small Farms: Labor: If you are in need of labor, it might be easy to find local labor. Many people have lost their jobs over the past two weeks.Please also use the NC Farm Link  and contact your local extension agent if you are in need of labor.
  5. H2-A workers and workforce in larger farms: While you might be able to secure workforce for March and parts of April, it is estimated that only a fraction of the H2-A workforce will be able to get be ready when the season starts. It is the US State Departments intend to continue processing H-2 cases as much as possible, as permitted by post resources and local government restrictions. Secretary Pompeo, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, has authorized consular officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview.  Consular officers can, if they so choose, now waive the visa interview requirement for first-time and returning H-2 applicants who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility. 
  6.  H2-A workers and workforce: please visit the Goverment Homepage for H2-A visas. The USDA has also set up a special email to address any concerns regarding H2-A labor: aglabor@usda.gov

NC State Extension Covid-19 Resources:

NC State Horticulture COVID-19 Farming Resources

NC State Extension COVID-19 Portal

NC State Covid-19 Food Safety Resources