UF researchers develops new strawberry varieties

February 23, 2000

DOVER -- Florida strawberry growers soon will have not one but two new varieties to choose from in planting their crops.

University of Florida strawberry breeder Craig Chandler released Earlibrite and Strawberry Festival this month, following extensive field trials in which the berries performed well under typical growing conditions.

Earlibrite's berries ripen from December through February, just after most California berries stop appearing in markets, giving Florida growers a strong market niche -- and price. Strawberry Festival starts producing ripe berries in December and reaches peak production in early March, right around the time of Florida's annual Strawberry Festival, after which it is named.

"With the early ripening strawberries we try to hit a market window," Chandler said. "Fruit from California drops off in mid-November, so Florida growers can benefit from a variety that can hit the market from mid-November to Christmas, when prices are higher."

Expanding growers' choices is a good thing, said Chandler, who conducted the research and trials in Dover at UF's Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, a part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

About 75 percent of Florida strawberry acreage is planted in just two varieties. Sweet Charlie, a UF-patented variety released in 1992, accounts for 40 percent of Florida strawberry acreage, and a variety called Camarosa accounts for 35 percent.

"This will give growers some other alternatives so that they're not so dependent on those two," Chandler said. "The new varieties also could be useful throughout the Southeast."

Earlibrite and Strawberry Festival complement Sweet Charlie and another UF variety released in 1996 called Rosa Linda. Rosa Linda, in fact, is one of the two parents for each of the new varieties, perhaps making Rosa Linda better as a parent than a crop, Chandler said.

The new varieties produce a firmer fruit, which helps keep the berries from bruising during handling on the way to market. Chandler says the berries of Earlibrite are large, which makes harvesting easier, too.

"Still, strawberries in general are a very delicate fruit, and even the new varieties should be harvested and handled carefully," Chandler said. "It's good to get the berries to consumers within about three or four days of harvest."

Florida and California are the two largest strawberry producers in the United States, and in Florida, strawberries are second only to citrus among fruit crops.

"There are only 6,000 acres of strawberries in Florida, most of which are in eastern Hillsborough County," Chandler said. "It's a very concentrated industry, but with gross sales of $150 million last year, it's a very important industry."

University of Florida

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