Growing strawberries using deficit irrigation techniques has been shown to save water and fertiliser while boosting yield and berry quality, according to trials led by East Malling Research (EMR).
The HortLINK-funded project was refined at EMR in Kent between 2007-10 and put into practice last year at four commercial growers in different parts of the country.
"All areas are under significant water stress," EMR research leader Dr Mark Else told the EMR Soft Fruit Day last week. But projects have shown potential water savings of between three to 36 per cent, fertiliser savings of three to 19 per cent, a five to 18 per cent rate of class 1 fruit and improved firmness and flavour, he said.
Trails on a crop of Cordelia variety under polythene at Manor Farm in Kent this year showed a 15 per cent increase in class 1 yields, and improved berry firmness, flavour and aroma, combined with a water saving of 21 per cent. According to Manor Farm grower Andrew Chesson: "We were wasting much more water than we thought."
Else added that the use of monitoring technology, including soil moisture probes, data loggers and telemetry equipment, and communication by text message to growers has worked well.
"The challenge now is to deliver this commercially," he said.
The year from October 2010 to September 2011 was the driest 12 months on record for many areas in Britain, latest figures have shown.
"This has been an unusually dry year," said East Malling Research leader Dr Mark Else. "Nearly half of UK soft fruit growers are in water-stressed areas and abstraction rates are unsustainable."
Future legislation will mean that growers will have to demonstrate "more efficient use of water", he added.