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Strawberries tested for freeze-prone north

ALCALDE — Late freezes in northern New Mexico regularly impact the region’s fruit tree crops. In 2011, the state’s peach crop was lost to a late freeze. Growers are determining what impact the hard mid-April frost will have on this year’s crop.

To provide research-based recommendations to fruit growers, New Mexico State University continues to test potential alternate fruit crops for northern New Mexico.

Shengrui Yao, Cooperative Extension Service fruit specialist and researcher stationed at NMSU’s Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde, is studying strawberries to see if this popular sweet berry could be a cash crop for the growers.

“Originally, I thought strawberries would be a wonderful crop because most of the time, late frosts won’t kill all of the flowers or buds in a cluster, so growers would always have some form of a crop,” Yao said.

Yao decided to conduct variety trials to see if strawberries could survive the late-freeze issue and to determine which variety would adapt to the high-pH soil and produce the best yield for the state’s northern region.

During the first year of the study in 2011, 16 varieties were planted and established in two treatments — a plastic-covered system and natural beds-matted row system.

“With the cold January this year, the strawberry plants with plastic cover had bad winter damage,” Yao said. “But we were able to determine that Kent, Mesabi, Cavendish, Honeoye, Brunswick and Cabot were hardy cultivars.”

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