New Varieties Sweeten the Strawberry Season

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By next season, Florida strawberry growers will have two new varieties from which to choose. Vance Whitaker, an associate professor and strawberry breeder at the University of Florida Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, spoke about the Florida Beauty and Florida Brilliance varieties to growers during the recent Agritech Trade Show in Plant City, Florida.

According to Whitaker, Florida Beauty became commercially available during the 2017 season, while Florida Brilliance will not be commercially available until the 2018 season.

Whitaker focused on management recommendations during his presentation due to the lack of grower experience with these varieties, and because “strawberry varieties tend to respond very strongly to environmental cues and different management systems,” he said. “A management system that works for one variety will often not work well for another.”

Whitaker said the two varieties have several differences that are important for growers to consider. The biggest difference has to do with planting. Beauty has been specifically designed for early planting, which in Central Florida is approximately from Sept. 23 to Oct. 1. Regarding Brilliance, the planting dates are later, from around Oct. 1 to mid-October or until the end of the strawberry-planting period.

According to Whitaker, Beauty generally does not perform as well if it is not planted early. He described Brilliance as “a little more flexible.”

Another key difference between the new varieties that plays into management is Beauty is a day-neutral variety, while Brilliance is a short-day variety. Historically, Florida strawberries have been short-day varieties since the state’s days are shorter during the winter months. Day-neutral varieties are mostly used in the moderated climate of the California Central Coast, where they fruit all summer under long days. “Beauty is a first of its kind for Florida to be a day-neutral,” Whitaker says.

Because Florida growers usually do not grow during the summer, using a day-neutral variety may not seem like a good investment. However, Whitaker says there is a reason for this day-neutral cultivar.

“Since Beauty is going to be planting earlier, it needs to set flower buds earlier. The day-neutrality allows that to happen, with early planting to accentuate that early yield, which for Florida strawberry growers is really the key characteristic that determines their profit margin,” Whitaker explains.

Since these varieties are so new, they have not yet been tested outside of Hillsborough County. Whitaker hopes to do some trials in North Florida and beyond in the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

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Dan Cooper

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