North Carolina has about 2,000 acres of strawberry plasticulture production, or one acre of strawberries per 4,500 people. The strawberry industry is highly decentralized and almost entirely based on small- to medium-size family farms, selling at U-pick and ready-pick roadside stands and in farmers markets in all 100 counties.
The northwest Piedmont and some areas of the mountains have a limited amount of commercial matted row (MR) production remaining, but the strawberry plasticulture system has largely replaced matted row production in all regions of the state.
The plasticulture production system was initially developed in California and Florida in the 1960s and consistsof using fumigated, raised beds covered with plastic mulch film, drip irrigation and annual transplanting of special varieties at very high densities per acre relative to the matted row. Though it is more expensive to grow an acre of strawberries on plastic than in the matted row, this newer system’s high productivity (10 to 12 tons/acre) more than offset its greater establishment costs for plastic mulch beds and plants (about 15,000 transplants/acre vs. 5,000/acre in the matted row).
The plasticulture system was initially tested in North Carolina the 1980s at research stations in Castle Hayne, Clinton and Clayton, and the system was further refined at these and other research locations in the state in the 1990s. In more recent years, research with overwintering row covers at the Upper Mountain Research Station in Laurel Springs has even made strawberry plasticulture a viable enterprise for a number of smaller farmers in this colder region of our state. To attract enough customers for a U-pick operation, the farm is best located within 10 to15 miles of a densely populated area and the strawberry field preferably sits on or near a major roadway and is accessible.
Even though U-pick customers prefer the easier experience of picking more strawberries quicker in the plasticulture system (vs. matted row), there has been a trend in recent years toward more ready-pick or pre-pick strawberry production. The pre-pick strawberry business has especially proven to be a boon for growers in more rural areas of the state. Pre-pick strawberries can be profitably sold at satellite stands, farmers markets, high-end supermarkets and restaurants.
Plasticulture overview & the latest news, technology and growing methods for the North Carolina strawberry industry from N.C. State University