Some of the berries you’ll eat at the Florida Strawberry Festival really are the best of the best, thanks to University of Florida scientists.
No matter what your college football allegiance is, everyone at the Florida Strawberry Festival can thank the University of Florida for some of the best-tasting berries on the grounds.
If you walk over to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association’s Strawberry Production Exhibit, located west of the Publix Entertainment Tent along Reynolds Street, you’ll see the “Florida Brilliance” and Sensation® varieties developed by the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and fine-tuned over the last six years. “Florida Radiance,” the most popular variety of Florida strawberry, was also developed by UF/IFAS scientists.
“The varieties are bred in the same conditions that we grow them commercially,” FSGA executive director Kenneth Parker said in a press release. “UF/IFAS breeds short-day varieties because that’s what grows best in Florida. The UF/IFAS varieties check all the boxes.”
The goal UF/IFAS scientists have in mind is to breed berries with genetics that can do three important things: taste better, last longer off of the plant and resist pests and diseases naturally with less reliance on chemicals. This all happens in nearby Balm at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center.
“These varieties are constantly getting better,” Vance Whitaker, an associate professor of horticultural sciences and strawberry breeder at the GCREC, said in a press release. “They’re tasting better. So, they fill those needs. They’re lasting longer in the refrigerator, and they’re more consistently available throughout the season.”
Though you can’t pick the berries from the rows at the FSGA’s farm (don’t even try — you will get caught and the whistle will blow), you can learn everything you could possibly want to know about how strawberry farms and production works from some of the most knowledgeable people in the state.
Even if you’re venturing away from the FSGA’s famous festival farm, there’s a very good chance you’re going to eat these varieties whether you know it or not. According to the FSGA, “Florida Brilliance” berries are grown on roughly half of the 10,000 acres of Florida strawberry industry.