Cal Poly's Strawberry Center Helps California Strawberry Industry Grow
Cal Poly's Strawberry Center (CPSC) is a research and education center located on campus at the Cal Poly Technology Park that is having major impacts on the success of the California strawberry industry. Housed within the College of Agriculture's Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) with close ties to the Plant Sciences Department, the Center provides opportunities for student workforce training and fosters interactions between the university and industry. Some of the ways the Center has been instrumental in the success of California strawberries include research programs in the following areas:
- Lygus bug pesticide resistance evaluations; UV-C technology for management of Lygus and other insects
- Predatory mites for two-spotted spider mites control; Best management practices to improve predatory mite quality
- Bug vacuum optimization
- Plastic mulch cross hole puncher
- Host plant resistance to soilborne pathogens
- Plant disease diagnostic services
The Center is an ideal environment for students to gain applicable industry experience on campus, which aligns well with Cal Poly's Learn-By-Doing philosophy. "The Strawberry Center has given me the opportunity to practice my lab skills outside of class, network with growers and researchers on field trips, and prepared me for my Driscoll's strawberry breeding internship," says student Aidan Inoue.
Hosted at Tech Park, the Strawberry Center's annual Field Day is an important event for the California strawberry industry, attracting over 440 growers, researchers and industry representatives who receive updates about research activities happening at the Center.
Working with many departments across several colleges, Center faculty and staff conduct multi-disciplinary applied research, employ and train students, teach formal courses, and provide guest lectures in related courses. The Center hosts several courses in its strawberry fields and plant pathology/entomology lab as well as a wide array of visitors from national and international research institutions, private industries, and political organizations.
Formed in 2013 as a partnership between the California Strawberry Strawberry Commission (CSC) and Cal Poly, the Center's team was initially focused on soilborne pathogens and soil fumigation alternatives but has since expanded into plant pathology, entomology, and automation.
"I've learned so much about the strawberry industry on both the production and research side, as I work really closely within the communications aspect of the Center," says student intern Colette Smith, "I've become well versed in current strawberry topics within pathology, entomology, and automation. I've been able to talk with industry professionals through our annual Strawberry Center Field Day, who have not only given me wisdom and insight, but also the opportunity to build connections within both the strawberry and agriculture industry."
Rapid growth and success meant the Center quickly outgrew its initial location on campus. It found a new home in Cal Poly's Tech Park, where its office and lab space is located immediately adjacent to its research fields, and yet is still within walking distance from the main campus. Having student, office, lab, and field resources in such close proximity is unique and has been a major factor in the continued success and impact of the Strawberry Center.
Strawberry Center Master's student Jack Koster interacts with guests at the 2022 Cal Poly Ag Showcase
In its first eight years, the Center secured over $2.5M in extramural funding and over $1.3M in gifts to conduct 149 projects. More than 110 students have received industry-related work experience, 40 have landed paid internships, and 32 senior projects and 15 Master's theses were mentored by Center staff. As of June 30, 2022, the CPSC team consists of 13 staff and 36 students. This has led to national recognition that is spreading internationally. Center projects and programs are providing research and educational opportunities for many students, thus strengthening academic programs, student experiences, and career opportunities for students across many departments and several colleges.
"The partnership with Cal Poly is essential to our mission. Tech Park provides the facilities and infrastructure that allow this connection to thrive in a way that is mutually beneficial to both parties," says Julie Tillman of the Strawberry Center, "The proximity to the main campus (student access) and to our research fields are key to this success."
Student assistants performing research tasks in the CPSC entomology (left) and pathology labs
"Working at the Strawberry Center has exposed me to a whole new realm of agriculture that I have never experienced before. I was unfamiliar with the strawberry industry going into this job, but I have learned so many attributes to the industry that makes it thrive. Being able to attend and help execute the Cal Poly Strawberry Center’s Annual Field Day was immensely beneficial to my networking skills and overall knowledge of the strawberry industry as well. I was able to meet some incredible people that helped give me direction for after graduation, learned about up-and-coming mechanization within strawberry harvesting practices and maintenance, root impaction, and much more. It has been an overall great experience being able to work at the Strawberry Center on Cal Poly’s Campus," says student intern Sarah Herring.
The Strawberry Center's plans for the near future are to:
- Grow/Expand the Strawberry Academy, a student workforce readiness program.
- Increase attendance, sponsorships, and content offerings for its annual Strawberry Center Field Day. Campus facilities, the Tech Park, and research fields are essential to the success of this event.
- Increase lab space and update/modernize lab/research equipment for both pathology and entomology labs.
- Offer workshops for strawberry industry professionals in entomology, pathology, and automation with the purpose of recognizing and managing pests and pathogens.
Acknowledgement Statement: This project was made possible by the work of the units in the Cal Poly Division of Research, Economic Development & Graduate Education to support student research, Learn-by-Doing, the Teacher-Scholar Model, proposal submission, award negotiation, compliance review, and post-award management. See more at research.calpoly.edu.