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• Looking at the 378 strawberry selections currently in the greenhouse, change seems distinctly possible.
• Throw in the 10,000 seedlings Vance Whitaker will evaluate this season, and it’s reasonable to think that one or two, at least, could someday be widely grown on Florida strawberry farms.
• These varieties in the pipeline toward release could be significantly different from those now being grown in the state.
New strawberry varieties in the pipeline promise better flavor while retaining the disease resistance of currently used cultivars, says Vance Whitaker, University of Florida plant breeder at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center.
Sugar and strawberry yield have an inverse relationship, as well, and that makes the breeder’s task a little bit tougher.
“Yield and sugar are a trade off.We can get more than a 25 percent increase in yield in one generation, but get 9 percent less sugar,” Whitaker says.
“Unless the breeder takes this into account and chooses parents with good yield and good sugar, you’ll go backward in sugar. Now, whenever I choose parents I put a little more emphasis on sugar — I choose parents that only have positive values for both sugar and yield.”
If Florida growers use the new strawberry varieties to differentiate themselves from Mexican-grown berries, won’t Mexican farmers grow them, as well? After all, Mexico ships Festival strawberries, competing with Florida production.
“I think the university and the Florida Strawberry Growers Association will restrict Radiance and the other new varieties,” he says. “They will put safeguards in place. They previously did not restrict varieties going to Mexico, so the Mexicans grow a lot of Festival.
“Varieties have a way of getting out, despite the best efforts to protect them. That’s why it’s best to have a stream of new things coming along and being adopted by Florida growers before everybody else gets them. The reality is, we’ve got to keep replacing them with the next step up.”
The grower association is the domestic licensee for the university’s strawberry varieties, handling contracts with nurseries. The association retains part of the revenues from royalties, boosting research efforts with grant funding.