A Brief History of Florida’s Winter Strawberry Production
Learn more about Florida’s thriving strawberry industry and find out why the state’s Plant City is known as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World
Florida is the No. 2 state when it comes to strawberry production, coming in behind California – and the Sunshine State’s strawberry industry is only growing stronger and more successful.
According to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Florida lays claim to approximately 8,000 acres of strawberries, and Plant City (located about 25 east of Tampa and 60 miles southwest of Orlando) is widely recognized as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World because it grows more than three-quarters of the nation’s winter strawberries. Many people are surprised to learn that the growing season for the Florida-grown fruit runs from about Thanksgiving to Easter, or the end of March, and March is typically the best month for Florida strawberries – that’s when they’re most affordable to consumers.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into what makes Florida a top spot for strawberry production and take a look at what’s on the horizon for the state and its strawberry farmers.
Plant City Has Deep Roots in Strawberry Production
Thanks to its mild subtropical climate and fertile soil, Hillsborough County’s Plant City is a perfect place for winter strawberries to thrive.
The fruit was introduced to the area in the late 1800s, and although it began as a simple garden crop grown by residents, it quickly became a hot commodity. Strawberry farmers started to multiply in the community, and as shipping methods improved, so did the berries’ condition at markets, which only enhanced their appeal. Plant City’s reputation as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World was solidified shortly thereafter.
As a result, it’s easy to see why Plant City hosts the Florida Strawberry Festival each March. The festival, created in 1930 by members of the Plant City Lions Club to celebrate the community’s bountiful strawberry harvest, took a six-year hiatus during and immediately following World War II, but it’s been an annual event since 1948 – and all signs point to it staying that way.
The 11-day celebration features live entertainment; livestock shows, sales and contests; parades; and, of course, plenty of strawberry-related events and exhibits like the Florida Strawberry Growers Association’s strawberry production display and “Ask A Farmer” booth. Plus, the festival offers ample opportunities to sample and savor the celebrated fruit with fresh strawberries, strawberry shortcake, strawberry milkshakes, chocolate-dipped strawberries, strawberry jam, strawberry lemonade and many other treats readily available.
University of Florida Creates ‘Florida Brilliance’ Strawberry
University of Florida scientists and researchers are helping the state’s farmers continue their legacy of successful strawberry production by introducing the ‘Florida Brilliance’ strawberry. Named for its attractively glossy and conical fruit, the ‘Florida Brilliance’ offers a higher yield in November and December – the early part of the Florida season when prices are the highest – as well as a longer shelf life, better flavor, improved shape and other traits developed with consumers in mind.
Vance Whitaker, an associate professor of horticultural sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, says the ‘Florida Brilliance’ variety was developed through conventional cross-pollination, with scientists choosing two strawberry varieties as parents based on their different but complementary characteristics and transferring pollen from one plant to the flower of the other using a camel’s hair brush. They collected the seeds from the resulting berries, then grew a couple hundred seedlings from each cross and evaluated them, finally choosing and testing the seedlings with the best characteristics from both parents.
So far, Florida growers are finding great success with this variety, which Whitaker says was created to resist many diseases – helping farmers cut production costs. The strawberry variety is also easy and efficient to harvest as it has long, robust stems and an open plant canopy that enables pickers to quickly see the fruit. Moreover, farmers report that ‘Florida Radiance’ strawberries are firm and bruise-resistant, helping them stand out in the marketplace.
According to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, the ‘Florida Radiance’ is currently grown on about 1,500 acres in Hillsborough County (that’s about 15 percent of the overall strawberry acreage in the state), and it’s doing so well that Whitaker predicts 40 to 50 percent of Florida’s strawberries could be planted in this variety in the near future.
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