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Purdue Extension steps in to help Hoosier fruit growers

September 8, 2020
Peter Hirst, Purdue Extension fruit specialist, speaks with Calvin Beasley, owner of Beasley's Orcha

COVID-19 guarantees that the Summer of 2020 will be like none we have experienced. We will be exploring what that means in Indiana by telling the stories of Purdue Agriculture’s and Purdue Extension’s interactions with communities throughout the state. We invite you to follow our series on this Season of Change.

From juicy red strawberries to sweet apples and melons, Indiana is home to many fruit growers. While each year presents its challenges in the field, this year Indiana faced an unfortunate late frost event, causing crop damage during a crucial point in the growing period. Outside of the fields, growers faced another challenge, creating a safe and healthy environment for employees and customers.
 

Seeing the need for guidance and support, Purdue Extension educators and specialists across the state stepped in to help growers overcome these obstacles.

“Strawberry harvest for 2020 was about one third of normal because of frost damage. This forced us to set a purchase limit,” said Judi Ditzler of Ditzler Orchard in Rosedale, Ind.

Late frost events can be devastating to fruit growers and potential yield. Wenjing Guan, clinical engagement assistant professor and Extension horticulture specialist, is currently researching alternative production methods to deal with extreme weather events.

“Supported by a Purdue AgSEED grant and a Rice grant, a group of Extension educators, specialists and myself are working on the use of high tunnel and low tunnel systems for growing strawberries,” said Guan. “Our ongoing research aims to optimize production practices that would further increase yield and profitability of the production system.”

Purdue Extension also found creative ways to help fruit growers stay informed. Through the Facts for Fancy Fruit e-newsletter and the Vegetable Crop Hotline, Extension specialists provided timely information. Early in the pandemic, Extension produced guidelines for agritourism, farmers markets and other agricultural businesses to create safe environments for employees and visitors.

“We held regular Zoom meetings to keep our stakeholders aware of the latest rule changes. We wanted to be available for growers to ask us questions that arose while everyone adjusted to the new rules brought on by the pandemic,” said Bruce Bordelon, horticulture and landscape architecture professor.

Extension specialists also shared research and important grower information at a virtual fruit and vegetable field day held at Beasley’s Orchard in Hendricks County. Peter Hirst and Guan met with Calvin Beasley, owner of Beasley’s Orchard. The videos, found on YouTube, explore many of the challenges and opportunities that Beasley and his team encountered as well as their common farm practices from growing apples, strawberries and raspberries to farm labor and agritourism.

“Although we missed talking to growers in-person and walking in the field, the virtual field day was successful. It was still a great opportunity to learn, and now we can revisit the content to keep learning,” said Guan.

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