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Florida growing better bred strawberries

Florida has a limited amount of acres in which to grow strawberries. The dedicated 11,000 acres rests within a 20 mile radius of Plant City generating an economic impact for the city of around a billion dollars a year and is predominantly composed of a variety called Radiant. “Florida has an abundance of productive agricultural land, but the micro climate around Plant City and the rich history with multigenerational farms is perfectly suited for winter strawberry production,” explains Kenneth Parker, Executive Director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.

Over the last few years growers have increased the amount of acreage dedicated to the Radiant variety as it is very popular. “It provides a constant high yield of large berries,” states Parker, “The timing of the yields begins earlier in the season so strawberries have a higher value in the market and growers see a higher return.”

However, this year an increased number of another strawberry variety were planted. The Florida127 is newly released from a plant breeding program at the University of Florida. Growers have dedicated 150 of 11,000 acres to trials to ensure farmers receive the help in cultivation they require. “The Florida127 has a lot of the most desirable characteristics,” states Parker, “Not only does it taste delicious, but it has a great aroma which enhances the flavour.”

The University of Florida plant breeding program concerns the crossbreeding of strawberries varieties in order to achieve advantageous attributes. The program is traditional and does not rely on genetically modified organisms to accomplish breeding benefits. “We do employ a small number of strawberry plants which are from other strawberry growing districts; however the breeding program at the University of Florida based on environmental pressures within our state.”

Florida strawberry growers follow a planting period of five weeks from late September to the end of October. By planting some strawberries early, in the middle of this period and at the end, growers are able to regulate supply throughout the season. “There is no perfect berry, therefore, we must continue to push the bar higher to maintain a competitive edge.”

The Association’s main goal is to be the berry of choice. Florida strawberries are grown within the same seasonal winter window as its competitors, Mexico. To distinguish themselves, Florida grows berries which focus on new and appetizing flavours to offer consumers. “Currently varieties of strawberries that taste great are in high demand,” explains Parker, “If crossbreeding can adapt delicious varieties to become more resistant to pests and pathogens, or more weather resistant, growers would be able to harvest more strawberries and the cost effectiveness would spread throughout multiple varieties.”

Domestically grown strawberries are also in high demand. Throughout the winter Florida grows the closest local strawberries throughout North America. “We ship to the plains and all up the east coast to Canada. Consumers appreciate locally grown produce as it is fresher, and there is less of an environmental impact when shipping.”

For more information:
Kenneth Parker
Florida Strawberry Growers Association
Tel: 813-752-6822
Fax: 813-752-2167

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