Breeding Better Lettuce

Jaci Schreckengost Leafy Vegetables, Top Posts

To help lettuce growers in Florida combat diseases, University of Florida (UF) researchers study and create new cultivars.

German Sandoya, assistant professor of plant breeding and genetics at UF’s Everglades Research and Education Center (EREC), says his goal is to create new cultivars to benefit growers. Often he works on romaine, iceberg and leaf lettuce varieties. While lettuce is his main field of study, he is also interested in other leafy vegetables grown in the area, such as spinach.

Bacterial leaf spot is a disease that affects lettuce that currently has no treatment in the form of a chemical pesticide, making it difficult for growers to protect their crop. Sandoya says it is important to provide cultivars for growers that are resistant to diseases such as this.

Fusarium wilt could be another possible issue for lettuce growers due to the strength of the disease once it is in the soil. Researchers are still concluding how exactly fusarium wilt affects the crop.

Corky root rot is an additional disease researchers are focusing on. It is currently being studied in a field experiment to find forms of resistance for growers.

In addition to disease resistance, Sandoya says breeding also tries to help growers with characteristics that are important to the market. These characteristics depend on market needs as well as the variety of lettuce being studied. For example, postharvest quality and shelf life are important since lettuce has to travel several days to reach Florida growers’ East Coast market destinations, Sandoya says.

According to Sandoya, a great improvement to the breeding program has been that growers have come to the EREC to discuss their issues with the researchers. He says this really allows them to work as a team and helps the researchers to understand the problems growers are currently facing.

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Jaci Schreckengost

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