By Clint Thompson
Interest in the new Florida Pearl strawberry, released by University of Florida strawberry breeder Vance Whitaker, is gaining momentum. It’s expected to lead to a substantial jump in acres for the upcoming season; perhaps as much as 200 acres.
“The interest has been variable depending on the business model of the different growers. There definitely will be an increase,” Whitaker said. “Last year we only had about 12 acres in trials. To go up to 150 to 200 acres is definitely showing that there’s interest.”
The Florida Pearl, also known as the white strawberry and also known as pineberry, provides a hint of pineapple aroma when it is bitten. The white strawberry’s origin at UF dates to 2012 when strawberry seeds from Japan were sown at the University of Florida. A few small plants recovered. The plants’ pollen was crossed with a Florida variety. The fruit’s seedlings ranged from white to pink to red.
Pineberry is a name that’s been used for some white-fruited strawberries that have existed in small amounts over the years.
The Florida Pearl will be produced in Plant City, Florida. Whitaker said some growers will grow a lot of acres, while some will not plant any. Whether this becomes a niche item or a regular product that people expect to see remains a mystery during its early stages of growth in the U.S.
“I think the vision of the industry is that this becomes like a fifth berry in the berry category at the supermarket along with red strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. If that’s really going to happen, production does really need to increase, so it can become more readily available,” Whitaker said. “I hope the growers will really benefit a lot from this new product if you will and have a chance to commercialize it.
“It’s going to be fascinating to see how that goes.”
Strawberry producers will begin planting next year’s crop the last week of September through Oct. 25. The majority will be planted in early-to-mid October.