To develop the strawberries of the future with all of the attributes that a strawberry lover covets–such as sugar content, juiciness and that perfect texture–California Berry Cultivars (CBC) in Oxnard, CA is using cutting-edge technology to create amazing strawberries. And that’s why they recently purchased a 1,800 square foot Solar Light greenhouse from Agra Tech, commercial greenhouse manufacturer. CBC has been using this greenhouse since mid-2016 to achieve their pursuit of the ultimate strawberry.
CBC’s Project Leader Kyle VandenLangenberg, 32, has a PhD in Horticulture and his role in the company is to successfully complete its mission of developing and releasing new varieties (or cultivars) for strawberry growers through the process of plant breeding. This involves crossing unique things together to create unique combinations. By testing literally thousands of different types of strawberries produced from dozens of different cross combinations and whittling the number down to less than a handful, VandenLangenberg is able to find the best-of-the-best while discarding the rest, he explained.
“We’re taking a ‘shotgun’ approach in order to find that one type of strawberry that will possess all of the qualities we’re looking for,” VandenLangenberg said. “We run these large numbers in order to find a strawberry plant that is hopefully superior over the previous ones and that is why we’re using this Agra Tech greenhouse. It’s an environment that is very conducive to growing mother plants and monitoring pollen production as well as germinating the seeds we produce in order to grow seedlings. Strawberry plants are extremely delicate, especially when they’re very young, so we need a sophisticated structure like this greenhouse to do all of our work the right way.”
When the strawberry plants are babies (less than a 1/2 centimeter wide), they’re called “germinates” and extremely sensitive to the temperature, humidity, and moisture content of the growing medium they’re in. This is a very crucial time in their lives and that’s why CBC needs a greenhouse that can protect them during this stage.
“We need complete environmental control and when you lose that, things can really go wrong,” VandenLangenberg said. “You can get disease outbreaks, slow growth or growth that is too rapid and time is everything when it comes to strawberries. We have to germinate on a specific day and we need to see a certain amount of growth by the time we take them out of the greenhouse and plant them in the ground. It’s a balancing act all the time in this business.
You can’t afford to cut corners or make a mistake when you’re trying to create the greatest and latest strawberries of the world, VandenLangenberg said. “Strawberries are a crop where the errors of the past will haunt you in the future and that’s why this greenhouse is such an important part of what we’re doing here. If the early steps that we take in the greenhouse are done incorrectly we will pay down the road, so we have to get it right the first time if we’re going to succeed. Because the development time for new cultivars is between 6 to 10 years, mistakes earlier on could really set us back. So, creating an environment that we can completely control and rely on is a must.”
CBC’s busy schedule will keep their Agra Tech greenhouse busy 10 months out of the year. The company’s cross-breeding is performed in the winter months, followed by a rolling seed collection process through the spring. After a quick clean and turn-around they switch gears and begin germinating in July and grow their transplants for the next two months. CBC will produce roughly 100,000-plus seeds and thousands of transplants every year, according to VandenLangenberg.
Working with Agra Tech to get a greenhouse that would fit their needs, specifically, was a huge step, VandenLangenberg explained. “We realized early on in the process that we needed a top-end greenhouse and that’s what we have. We’re a small startup company so value was a major factor and we looked at a wide range of options before selecting Agra Tech. Kira Construction built the greenhouse based on Agra Tech’s recommendations and it was completed right on time.”
In order to set themselves up for a bright future, VandenLangenberg and his team worked closely with their Agra Tech’s sales engineer Jim Bergantz. “We started the conversation with Agra Tech back in 2015 and were immediately impressed by Jim Bergantz for his knowledge about the industry. We sat down and put together a plan that had everything we needed. The service that Jim provided was great and he really worked with us to get it done. There are two departments within the greenhouse, separated by a custom designed inner-wall, allowing us to run two separate environments exactly the way we want it.”
Now that CBC’s Agra Tech greenhouse is up and running VandenLangenberg is confident that he made the right decision by going with Agra Tech, he said. “There’s a bunch of plants in there right now and they’re doing well, so yes–I am happy about our decision to go with Agra Tech and we hope to work with them more in the future as our business grows.”
Article by Edmund Attanasio