Strawberry Breeding to Address Grower Challenges

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Labor availability is decreasing while competition from imports is increasing for strawberry growers in Florida, says Vance Whitaker, associate professor and director of the strawberry breeding and genetics program at the University of Florida.

Whitaker says Mexico’s strawberry production has increased in the last five years, creating a challenge for Florida growers.

“For labor, one of the key aspects of a strawberry variety is that it’s easy and fast to pick,” Whitaker says.

To help Florida growers flourish against the competition, Whitaker focuses on early yield, harvesting in late November and early December. He says it is important to breed for earlier planting in warmer weather conditions.

Whitaker adds that it is also important to focus on the flavor of the fruit so that quality favors Florida growers when they are competing against imports from California and Mexico.

“We’re trying to do all those different things at once, to try to counteract all the different kinds of challenges that the growers have, and it’s a big challenge,” Whitaker says.

According to Whitaker, a new strawberry from the breeding program will be commercially tested this winter season on 200 to 300 acres in Florida. The aim is early yield with this breed that can be planted in late September, he says.

“It’s been in small trials, but this will be the first time it’s been in … large-scale, commercial production. So we’re looking forward to seeing what happens,” Whitaker concludes.

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