Optimal berries production grows from the planting material produced in the nursery, and good quality of the plants is the first requirement to obtain profitable fruit yields. The quality of the plants is not only related to their genotype, aspect and size. Their real crop potential is also important, as well as their “programmed” status. In fact, a large part of professional strawberry cultivation is based on a high control of the crop cycle and the plants must be suitable for producing at the desired time, duration and amount. This cultivation approach requires knowledge update and specific technical advice taking advantage from an adequate qualitative assessment of the planting material. 

Since size grading of the nursery plants is not enough to characterize their crop potential and doesn’t give information about the precocity and the duration of potential yield, plants can be evaluated trough the detection of inflorescence number and position using the "flower mapping" or the plant architecture analysis.

The yield potential

Yield potential of the strawberry plants results from the flowers formation process (induction and differentiation) that is affected by the their sensitivity to inducing factors. Temperature and day length are the main inducing factors, but also other environmental and growing factors interact with the plants, orienting their development toward reproductive or vegetative identity. Therefore, the productive behavior of the plants can be modulated by acting on the cultivation technique during the plant propagation in the nursery. Similar strawberry plants show dissimilar crop potential if propagated and grown under different conditions, showing specific number of shoots, runners, inflorescences or flowers per inflorescence. The quality level is related to the use of the plants for cultivation and based on their ability to provide the expected performance in specific growing cycles according to the type of the planting material (frigo plant, tray, minitray, waiting bed, dug plant etc.). In fact, under cultivation the needs of the plants change according to their quality level. Earliness and synchronicity of the production can be estimated observing the developmental stages of the flowers, that also determines whether the plants are ready for digging from the nursery.

Plant architecture

By mean of spatial-temporal detection of the buds' development, the plant architecture analysis represents the position and number of vegetative and reproductive organs (flowers, buds, stolons, shoots) and investigates the fruiting ability of the plants. Further, the analysis scores the developmental stages of flower organs and describes the composition of the inflorescences (primary, secondary, tertiary flowers, etc.). This technique is a parameter of plant quality to predict its behavior, providing information well related to fruit production, even if after planting the formation of new inflorescences is still possible as a result of specific cultural techniques. Further, architectural analysis is suitable to detect the effects of experimental treatments or to evaluate cultivar attitudes and adaptability for breeding selection.

Guarantee of quality

The cooperative society Hort, founded in 2011 as a spin-off of the Polytechnic University of Marche (Ancona, Italy), offers professional evaluation of fruit plants, applying the plant architecture analysis. Thanks to the experience gained by the team in plant physiology during years of academic and research activity at Marche Polytechnic University (department of Agricultural, Food and Environmental and Crop Science), the company has established in this field at national and international levels. The company still pursues the research approach, carrying out investigations on strawberry plants and is available for scientific cooperation in research projects.

The service is mainly provided for strawberry plants, but is also available for raspberry, blackberry and currant and can be developed for other species (eg. ornamental plants); in fact, interest in the plant evaluation is rising, in particular for the raspberry production.

The analysis results are rendered as detailed raw data and as schematic drawings to make them easy to understand and to provide a synthetic insight of the information, using a recognizable code.

The results are used to build stronger trust between farmers and nurseries and to increase product competitiveness.

Architecture analysis helps nurseries to orient production technique and guarantee the quality of offered plants.

Growers and technical advisors use analysis to adjust the growing technique (planting time and density, fertilization, forcing technique) in order to optimize the harvest and to know the agronomic quality of the plants they are going to buy, paying the material for the real productive value.

Analysis provide breeders with information about flower differentiation (timing, sensitivity to external factors), remontancy type, harvesting and development patterns of new varieties in order to evaluate their suitability for different cultivation cycles and production objectives, during the selection process.

For more information 
H.O.R.T. Soc. Coop. 
Ancona – Italy
Francesca Massetani PhD