Walmart Foundation donates $3 million to UA for strawberry sustainability


FAYETTEVILLE — A $3 million donation from the Walmart Foundation will aid the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture in funding a national program aimed at providing fresher strawberries to consumers, the university said Monday.

The donation will go to the division’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability, or CARS, which will create and manage a national competitive grants program. Awards will go to land-grant and other public universities with agricultural research and outreach programs with projects that will, among other things, expand where strawberries can be grown, shortening trips for the berries between farm and consumer.

“We are excited this grant will enhance sustainable production of strawberries. That means better access for shoppers to quality strawberries and better profitability for the farmers growing the crops,” said Michelle Gilliard, senior director of the Walmart Foundation. “Through partnership with institutions like the University of Arkansas, the Walmart Foundation leverages the company’s commitment to locally grown fresh produce in America by funding programs that make agricultural products better for people and the environment.”

Mark Cochran, UA system vice president for agriculture, said the university “sees this donation as a starting point for innovations that will benefit consumers, farmers and the environment.”

Curt Rom, a UA horticulture professor, said strawberries travel an average distance of 3,000 miles or more from farm to market, and losses during the trip can reach 36 percent, with an annual value of $1.14 billion.

To help address the problem, CARS will seek proposals from research and extension teams at land-grant and public universities nationally that will expand strawberry production areas, decrease energy use and environmental impacts, and cut product losses, officials said.