The suspended cultivation of semi-hydroponic strawberries has gained many fans. The preference is justified by the better use of the space in small properties, the good economic results, high adaptability to the workforce available in the property, differentiated production periods, and, above all, the opportunity of producing higher quality products with lower contamination risks. Aware of the small farmer's reality, in June of 2015 the De Bastiane Family began the cultivation of strawberries in the semi-hydroponic system with the implementing of a 105m2 shelter crop where 1,500 strawberry plants are grown.

The main results are the productivity and profitability of the system. The average productivity is 1 kg per plant/cycle, with a total production of 1,500 kg/cycle/year, the yield values indicate that for every R$ 1.00 employed in the activity there is a R$ 1.04 return in the first year and a R$ 3.44 return in the second. In addition to the economic aspect, the quality of life of the family has been further improved by the optimization of labor and the ergonomics of the people who perform the everyday handling.

  

A - General Information

 

BEGGINING: June of 2015

COMPLETION: In progress   

EXECUTING ENTITY: Company of Agricultural Research and Rural Extension of Santa Catarina - EPAGRI

CO-EXECUTING ENTITY: Família De Bastiane

PRESENTED BY: Sônia Toigo

RESOURCES: Own and third-party 

VALUE RANGE: Between US$ 5,000.00 and 10,000.00

CATEGORY: Reference Unit

MAIN THEMATIC AREA: Agriculture

KEY WORDS: Strawberry, semi-hydroponic, Epagri, profitability, family farming.

TARGET AUDIENCE: Family Farmers who wish to convert large crops for varieties adapted to the production in small properties.

LOCATION: Rural Area

GEOGRAPHIC COVERAGE: Municipality

MMUNICIPALITIES: Jupiá - SC

SPECIFIC IMPLEMENTING AREA: Morro Agudo Rural Community.

 

B - Description of the practice

 

1- BACKGROUND

The De Bastiane family, constituted by the couple Gerard and Ivone De Bastiane, traditionally produced milk and grains in an area of 7 ha of land. Other cultivars, such as vegetables were produced for own consumption. The low profitability, losses arising from the loss of animals from the dairy herd, and a serious health problem contracted by Mr. Gerard indicated the need to follow a different path. After a heart surgery, Mr. De Bastiane's ability to carry out physically exerting activities was compromised. The opportunity for change was elicited by the participation in a course sponsored by the Centre of Reference in Social Assistance – CRAS in August of 2014, on which occasion the family found out about and became interested in hydroponic cultivation. It was then that, with Epagri's aid, the family began a series of visits to properties that had the system installed and participated in courses and events aiming to acquire more knowledge about this production model.

Convinced that the cultivation of strawberries was appropriate, in June of 2015 the structure of the cultivation shelter was fully ready and the Albion seedlings were planted. The prospects were good, the climate was suitable to the culture and the market conditions were promising, since strawberry crops in this system were practically inexistent in the region. 

  

2- GENERAL OBJECTIVE

Developing a productive activity suited to small rural properties, providing an economically viable alternative to grain production in the production of income for the family.

Specific Objectives:  

  • Maximizing the use of space in small properties with investments consistent with the economic reality of the family;
  • Improving working conditions through ergonomics in the management of the productive system;
  • Optimizing the manpower existing in the rural environment;
  • Producing strawberries in periods other than the traditional seasons;
  • Rationalizing and reducing the use of pesticides and the agrochemical contamination of the fruits;
  • Constituting a reference unit for studying and sharing experiences regarding strawberry production in the suspended semi-hydroponic system.

 

3 - ADOPTED SOLUTION

The production of strawberries in a protected environment began with the construction of a cultivation shelter. This facility was built in a high tunnel model, in the form of a bow, 7 metres wide, with 15 metres in length and a 3 m double high ceiling. The frames of the shelter's roof were made from galvanized steel, and the coverage was made from plastic. Four wood benches with an approximate height of 1 m were also built, that is the place on which the plastic bags are arranged (also known as “slabs” ¹). The slabs were then filled with the substrate, a mixture of carbonized rice husks and peat.

The production cycle was established through the planting of the seedlings in the plastic bags filled with substrate, in which is injected a nutritional solution adequate to the culture's phenology, vegetative period or productive period. The nutritional solution is composed by different types of mineral fertilizers that provide all the nutrients necessary for the plant to grow and produce. The nutritional solution is monitored through electrical conductivity meters². The frequency of the fertigation is determined through the reading of the electrical conductivity (EC).

The system protects the plants from rain and facilitates ventilation. These conditions allied to the exchanging of the plastic bags and of the substrate every two years, are responsible for the lower incidence of diseases. Since there is less pressure from diseases the adoption of food safety principles is facilitated. The use of pesticides can be replaced by the use of biological control agents and alternative products, dramatically reducing the risk of fruit contamination without affecting the production's profitability.

  

4 - RESULTS ACHIEVED

The main results achieved through the production of strawberries in the semi-hydroponic suspended system are: 

  • Average productivity of 1 kg per plant/cycle, with a total production of 1,500 kg/cycle/year. The average annual sale price is R$ 15.00/kg (fifteen reais), resulting in a gross production value of R$ 22,500.00 (twenty-two thousand and five hundred reais);
  • High profitability. These values indicate that for each R$ 1.00 employed in the activity there is a return of R$ 1.04 in the first year and of R$ 3.44 in the second, which proves the economic efficiency of semi-hydroponic strawberry cultivation as well as the possibility of guaranteeing the family's livelihood;
  • The possibility of off-season cultivation (occasion when greater market value is obtained) is a factor that deserves to be highlighted, since it contributes to the activity's good economic results;
  • The optimization of the workforce, through better ergonomics considering that the management of the culture can be carried out on foot, is one of the factors that strongly impacts cultivation satisfaction;
  • The strawberry proved to be an easy marketing product, with the establishing of loyal customers attracted by the quality of the fruit.

 

5 - NECESSARY RESOURCES

For the implementing of a 105m2 semi-hydroponic suspended system for the production of strawberries the following resources are necessary:

 

Human Resources

  • Implementing: 3 people in the 3 days of implementing of the system; 1 technical professional with knowledge in the area for follow-up visits and provision of instructions relating to the the system;
    Maintenance: 1 person for daily management activities, and 1 technician for periodic assistance;

Material resources

  • Expenses with the construction of the greenhouse (105 m2): Aluminium profile (8); zinc-plated tube (8); Arch slot (12); Plastic cover m2 (153); Tab (12); 8 m zinc-coated tube (6); Platforms (12); Wood for countertops.
  • Irrigation system: Motor pump (1); Drip tube (250); Water tank (1).
  • Implementing inputs: Substrate bags (160); Albion strawberry plants (1500 units).
  • Inputs for cycle maintenance: Mineral fertilizers for the nutritional solution; Phytosanitary treatments.

 

6 - TRANSFER 

 

Ever since the implementation of the semi-hydroponics strawberry crops, in 2015, the property has received a number of visits from people interested in getting to know the system.  In March of 2017, Epagri promoted a capacity building course involving over 30 participants, including technicians and producers from the region, the course included a visit to the property.

 

 

7 -LESSONS LEARNED

 

The cultivation of strawberries in the semi-hydroponic suspended system shows good productivity with fast economic return. This is a practice consistent with sustainability precepts and that provides a better use of the available resources through judicious use and less intensive chemical inputs, which ultimately results in the obtaining of clean and quality products. However, this technique still requires improvement in various aspects, mainly in relation to the doses of the nutrients that make up the nutritional solution. Unlike the traditional crops, in the semi-hydroponic modality the plant's root system is confined to a small space, which makes it extremely sensitive to mistakes that may compromise the plant's necessities. This fact requires a high level of knowledge on the part of the technical assistance, combined with the attentive observation of the culture's behavior by the producer, so that the crop is not impaired. Information is still lacking on issues relating to nutritional management, which forces permanent and located experimentation in each cultivation environment, involving high levels of risk.

Generally, hydroponic crops require permanent monitoring, particularly regarding electrical power supply and the control of the chemical and physical characteristics of the nutritional solution. All essential nutrients must be provided at levels consistent with the requirements of each species and according to the stage of development.

The management of insect-pests and diseases in a timely manner and the interaction between the occurrence of outbreaks and the environment conditions are challenges to be faced by the producer and the technical assistance. The production technology is insufficient on its own. To it must be added the relationship between professionals and producers, supported by mutual trust and the achievement of good results.  

    

8 -THE ORIGINALITY OF THE PRACTICE

According to researchers it is not possible to pinpoint where the implementing of the system began. It appeared as the result of the efforts of various initiatives initially observed in Rio Grande by Serra Gaúcha producers and Emater/RS technicians, at the end of the decade of 1990. Since 2001, "Embrapa Grape and Wine" researchers have aided in the adjusting of the technology. The practice is pioneered by Epagri and the De Bastiane family.

 

 

 

Visits from September to November, from Monday to Friday in business hours. Maximum number of visitors: 15 people.

 

Footnotes: ¹ A slab is a highly resistant plastic cultivation bag, also popularly known as "pillow". They are generally low-cost, easy management and allow for the rationalizing of water use.
² The electrical conductivity meter is a device responsible for measuring the ability of a material for conducting an electric current. Establishing conductivity is a sensitive procedure for measuring ionic concentrations. In hydroponics it is used to set and monitor the nutrient solutions available to the plants.

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