Researchers play key role in Florida’s $300 million strawberry industry

From Fresh Plaza | 30 January 2023

Overview of strawberries from Florida in the U.S. market, complemented by charts from Agronometrics. Original published on January 26, 2023. 

As far back as the early 1950s, the University of Florida scientists have been studying how to improve strawberry production and consumption in Florida and globally. To date, UF/IFAS-developed strawberry varieties that are grown in more than 50 countries and on every continent (except Antarctica).

To help growers who generate $300 million annually for Florida’s economy, UF/IFAS researchers aim to develop strawberries that fight diseases and pests and also taste and smell delicious.

strawberry volumes by hi 2 1

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

Vance Whitaker and other researchers at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC) have bred many cultivars over the years. Among those are ‘Strawberry Festival,’ ‘Florida Radiance,’ ‘Florida Brilliance’ and Sweet Sensation®. Whitaker’s most recent variety is known as the “pineberry,” aka Florida Pearl® ‘109’ which is white and has a sweet flavor with a subtle pineapple aroma.

“‘Brilliance’ grows on 60 percent of the state’s strawberry acreage. That’s because the fruit is relatively firm and resists many diseases,” said Wael Elwakil, a fruit and vegetable agent for UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County. ‘Sensation’ is the second most common cultivar because of its savory flavor and size. Meanwhile, growers are increasingly choosing ‘Medallion,’ a newer variety compared to ‘Brilliance’ and ‘Sensation’ and are growing more of it each year.

GCREC is located in Balm, about 20 miles southeast of downtown Tampa and in the heart of Hillsborough County’s farmland. The county produces most of Florida’s 12,000 acres of strawberries, but some of the fruit also grows in Manatee County. “The Tampa Bay area is ideal for growing strawberries due to its climate–it’s not so far north as to have too many freezes but not so far south that the autumn is too hot and unsuitable for planting,” said Whitaker, adding that strawberry consumption continues to rise in the United States thus creating a strong domestic demand for strawberries.

Today, California and Florida lead the nation in strawberry production, growing over 91 percent of the crop. The industry is moving into the thick of Florida’s strawberry growing season now, which runs through April.

This fall’s weather has hindered strawberry growers, but Elwakil remains optimistic for a “fruitful” season. “The weather this fall has been particularly challenging for the majority of the strawberry growers in the central and south Florida area,” said Elwakil. Hurricanes Ian and Nicole didn’t help. “The overcast, rainy weather persisted, which is not ideal, and in the middle of all of that, we had two freeze events around Christmas. That said, strawberry plants and our growers are both resilient, so we look forward to a good season.”

The News in Charts is a collection of stories from the industry complemented by charts from Agronometrics to help better tell their story.

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