UF Study: Buyers Want Environmentally Safe Strawberry Production

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Fresh strawberries and strawberry plants.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As buyers browse strawberry packages at the supermarket, they might see labels such as “organically grown” or “locally grown.” But they’d also like to know if the fruit was produced in a way that preserves the environment, a new University of Florida (UF) study shows.

Consumers say they’ll pay more for strawberries grown in a manner that is sustainable, the research shows. Researchers defined “sustainable” as production methods that help keep the ecosystem healthy. More specifically, researchers described five sustainable practices: less fertilizer, less pesticide and fewer negative impacts on air, soil and water quality.

That’s helpful news for growers in the $300 million-a-year Florida strawberry industry. If they could label their products with data such as “uses less fertilizer,” they could make more money, said Zhifeng Gao, an associate professor of food and resource economics at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS).

“The study provides good information regarding the development of some new food labels in the market,” Gao said. “To help growers receive the highest potential financial benefit from sustainable practice adoption, policymakers may consider giving growers more flexibility to label their products.”

Consumers, growers and regulators must work together to achieve sustainability and sustainable agriculture, he said.

To help growers and consumers, Gao led a UF/IFAS study in which researchers surveyed 2,525 people nationwide to find out how much participants would be willing to pay for certain strawberry production methods.

Buyers want systems that keep water clean, and they want less pesticide used, the study showed. Researchers zeroed in on sustainable agricultural practices.

Farms that adopt best management practices (BMPs) usually use less fertilizer than those that don’t, Gao said. In most cases, those practices can reduce the negative impact on water quality.

If growers adopting BMPs could label their product as either “uses less fertilizer” or “reduces the negative impact on water quality,” or both, they would obtain the most financial return from adopting this type of sustainable practice, Gao said.

“This flexibility may motivate more growers to adopt sustainable practices,” he said. “Educating consumers could lead more of them to support sustainably produced products.”

The UF/IFAS study is published in the journal Ecological Economics.

Source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

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