How special are pomegranates? One of the most popular varieties is literally called ‘Wonderful.’ Scientists all over the US, including researchers at the University of Florida, soon will try to improve the ‘Wonderful’ pomegranate and other varieties of the fruit. In Florida, research will start as soon as scientists can return to their fields and labs.
California farmers produce 90% of the nation’s pomegranates, but ‘Wonderful’ pomegranates come from cuttings in Florida, and some Florida farmers seeking alternative crops see pomegranates as among their options.
Zhanao Deng, a professor of environmental horticulture at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC), soon will collaborate with researchers nationwide to breed more disease- and pest-resistant pomegranates. “For Florida pomegranate growers to be successful and sustainable, we need new varieties that are better adapted to our climate and more resistant to diseases commonly found in Florida,” Deng said.
To find these new varieties, Deng tests about 2,000 plants from sets of parent plants that were grown several years ago.
“We plan to create new breeding populations and screen them for better disease resistance, higher crop yield and better fruit quality,” he said.
At the GCREC, Deng will work with Gary Vallad, a UF/IFAS plant pathology associate professor. The two scientists also will work with Florida growers to find plants that show the best disease resistance. When promising new cultivars become available, they will be tested in growers’ orchards.
As part of the national research team, Deng will work with scientists at the University of California-Riverside, Texas A&M University, California State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. UC-Riverside leads the grant, after it received an $885,801 grant from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service through the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Multi-State Program.