Still Learning After 54 Years

Grower: Dustin Grooms, Fancy Farms Inc., Plant City, FL Crop Advisor: Jerrod Parker, Chemical Dynamics Inc., Plant City, FL

Carl and Dee Grooms started Fancy Farms with 15 acres of strawberries in 1974 in Plant City, Florida, the winter strawberry capital of the world. They have been producing quality strawberries since. Their son Dustin began managing the farm in 2007. It has grown to 235 acres, 170 of which are used to grow strawberries. It also includes a produce stand. The family continuity is complemented by Jerrod Parker, their crop advisor of the last five years. His dad worked with the Grooms in the same capacity for 20 years before Jerrod started. Together, the Grooms and Parkers have ensured that research-based nutrient stewardship practices have been in place at all times.

Grid and zone soil samples are the foundation for recommendations for amendments that ensure the soil is ready to be put under plastic. These results also guide what nutrients will be applied via drip irrigation, a practice the Grooms were among the pioneering growers to adopt. Today, nearly all Florida strawberry growers use this method. Drip tubing in the center of strawberry beds carries water and nutrients to the plants. Leaf tissue samples are used to adjust the fertilizer rate, if needed.

A baseline of 150 pounds per acre of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous is established by the University of Florida. Using soil sample results, soil types, strawberry varieties, and planting timing, Grooms and Parker work together to customize a sound nutritional program around this baseline for each field.

“When we formulate fertilizers, the best approach is to develop a formula that lets growers turn on their injectors and not worry, knowing the right nutrition is flowing and that we can adjust it if leaf tissue tests tell us to,” Parker says.

Of the approximately 150 pounds of nitrogen, only about one pound is applied daily and it is quickly taken up by the plants. Throughout the season, leaf samples guide adjustments to the nutrient applications based on soil and plant health. This real-time customization lets Grooms and Parker be efficient with inputs and reduces the risk of overapplying.

Best Practice Management

  • Zone soil sampling to accurately determine crop need.
  • Variable-rate nutrient application to accurately apply nutrients.
  • Includes nutrient and cover crop credits to help determine application rate.
  • Fertigation rates vary based on soil and plant needs.
  • Split, liquid application via fertigation throughout the growing season
  • In-season nitrogen management tools to more accurately link application rate to crop need during the growing season
  • Plant tissue testing is used as a diagnostic tool in-season, at harvest and post-harvest.
  • Foliar application, GPS planting and tillage ensures nutrients are delivered in the right place.