Growers are helping steer a University of Florida research project designed to develop organic strawberry production systems.

As part of the effort, funded by a sustainability grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation, researchers must conduct educational outreach to growers.

Also involved in the project are scientists from North Carolina A&T, Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers Inc. and Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., according to a news release.

The trials compare organic and conventional strawberry production in open fields and under high tunnels.

It also involved cultivar selection, soil and weed management, pest management and evaluation of consumer preferences.

In addition, the trials included four cover crops and eight strawberry cultivars.

Growers spent up to an hour making field assessments of components, such as cover crop weed suppression, plant vigor, fruit production, and disease and pest resistance.

Two grower assessments were done at the UF Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra and at a farm near Plant City.

A third assessment, conducted by FOG at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference in Mobile, Ala., involved posters with pictures and data.

Among the requests from growers were to develop economic models for the cost of production, yield and net returns for each combination of cover crop and strawberry cultivar.

They also wanted to know more about the interactions among cover crops, cultivars and pests.

Carlene Chase, the research team leader, said the group plans to incorporate these recommendations into next year's research program.