Sweet UF strawberry gets nod from tasters at berry expo
BALM - Carol Singleton just could not choose. All five berries presented in a blind test during the annual Florida Berry Expo were just, well, so sweet and good. Dozens of tasters picked over platters heaped with the jewel-like red fruit, during the expo, held at the University of Florida’s Gulf Coast Research Center. Singleton, a strawberry breeder from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, traveled to Balm for the extravaganza to get a look at the plants she had shipped to Florida, now growing nicely at the center. She is working to develop a berry that will grow in Florida during winter and in Ontario during the summer. The strawberries piled up for tasting are the fruits of other researchers’ labors.“They are all so good, I’m not sure what to pick,” said John Hayes, UF’s dean for research at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Gainesville. “It’s always exciting to be here for this and to see the new berries and build linkages between research and industry.” Plant City strawberry grower Carl Grooms, of Fancy Farms, and Terry Benefield, of Wish Farms, joined in the tasting. “This one tastes good, but it’s got inconsistencies in the shoulder (skin) and won’t grow the tip out,” said Benefield, one of the experts on hand. “Kinda like the old Sweet Charlie,” a variety developed several years ago by UF breeder Craig Chandler. In the end, the winner was a variety developed at UF in 2009 and nearly ready for the marketplace. The expo is an opportunity for everyone in the strawberry business to learn and enjoy, said Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers’ Association. “It’s one day of the year when growers can take a day off after Valentine’s Day, when they’re really busy, and really see what is actually happening on the ground with research and development,” Campbell said.