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May 18, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — June marks the start of what many here in the Northeast believe is the sweetest part of summer — berry season. It's a time ripe with strawberry festivals, pick-your-own-berries and local farmers' markets. For berry lovers and local farmers, the season is much too short — usually about one month of strawberry harvest and another for fresh, local raspberries — a span of time researchers at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences are working to extend. "National demand for fresh strawberries and raspberries is strong and growing, but most domestic production occurs in select regions of the United States with the most suited climate," said Kathleen Demchak, senior extension associate in the Department of Plant Science. "Growers in the Northeast are in a great position geographically to supply more berries to consumers. But our growing season is short, temperatures are variable and rainy weather during harvest can be a big problem." Demchak and colleague Bill Lamont, professor of vegetable crops, are among a group of researchers examining how the use of high and low tunnels and plastic coverings extend the growing season for strawberries and raspberries, and as a result, increase yields while also reducing pesticide use and improving berry quality and shelf-life. Their goal is to help local farmers improve productivity, profitability and product while increasing the quantity and quality for consumers.