New strawberry varieties create a sensation

12/11/2013 05:00:00 AM
Renee Stern

click image to zoomCourtesy University of FloridaVance Whitaker leads the University of Florida’s strawberry breeding program that has recently released the new varieties Sensation and Winterstar.Florida strawberry growers are looking to two new varieties to wow consumers.  

Winterstar, in its second year of commercial production, and Florida Sensation, expected to be commercially available next year, are both products of the University of Florida’s breeding program. 

While both varieties have  similarities to Florida Radiance and Strawberry Festival, the state’s dominant strawberry cultivars—including Radiance’s susceptibility to phytophthora fruit rots—they also hold new advantages, says Vance Whitaker, assistant professor of horticulture at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wimauma. Whitaker heads the strawberry breeding program.

Sensation so far looks to be a true star, he and growers who’ve participated in field trials say.

It consistently produces large fruit with flavor that tasting panels score “right at the top,” Whitaker says.

“Sensation has such good fruit quality that it will separate Florida berries from anything else in the store,” says Joel Connell, general manager at Grimes Farms in Plant City. “It eats so well I feel people will return looking for it.”

Winterstar brings its own pluses, Whitaker says. It not only produces firm berries, but they also offer a different flavor profile: milder and sweeter, thanks to slightly lower acid levels.

Preliminary trials suggest that Sensation can be planted at earlier dates than Radiance, allowing growers to hit a potentially more profitable marketing window as well as to stagger their overall plantings for a longer sales season, he says.

He warns against planting too early, though, especially for growers in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina who have adopted other Florida varieties. Further trials will help pinpoint the best timing for planting.

For growers in areas that undergo cooler winter temperatures than the Plant City area, “You want to make

sure you plant [Winterstar] early enough and fertilize through drip [systems) at sufficient rates to make a good solid plant,” he says. “Because it’s a more compact plant you need to get a good crown set before winter.”

Modifying cultural practices

Bielinski Santos, associate professor of horticulture at the Gulf Coast research center, has participated in the trials of both Winterstar and Sensation, comparing them to Festival.

Festival produces bigger plants with deeper root systems that better tolerate drought and stress, he says.

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