Thanks to endowment, UF adds tomato breeder, doubling its efforts

08/11/2011 04:13:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

As the infection progresses, the disease eventually kills the plant, Hutton says.

Tomato varieties have been released that are resistant to bacterial wilt, but they produce mostly small to medium fruit. Hutton says he hopes to soon be getting out some tolerant varieties with large fruit.

The university’s tomato breeding program “has made tremendous headway in this regard,” he says.

Flavor traits

One of the most common gripes from anyone who eats tomatoes is their lack of flavor.

“Everybody complains about flavor,” Hutton says.

But breeding for improved flavor is not simple. And since growers typically get paid by how many tomatoes they sell, not by how good they taste, there is less incentive to breed for flavor than for other traits, he says.

Still, the university’s breeding program is working to develop high-yielding varieties with improved flavor quality, Hutton says.

One of the goals is to identify and breed for key “flavor volatiles” that produce a favorable fruity taste, he says.

Since consumers tend to buy with their eyes, Hutton also has a side project focusing on breeding for high outside color. He says he hopes to combine an attractive appearance with good flavor, which will lead to repeat sales.

$2 million chair

DiMare Inc. put up $1 million to support the breeding program, DiMare says. The university matched it, resulting in a $2 million chair at the university for tomato plant breeding.

Taste is the No. 1 concern with tomatoes today, DiMare says. And breeding tomatoes that are resistant to pests and diseases can slash a grower’s expenses.

“If you can do that, you’d save a lot of money because the most expensive thing in farming today is spraying,” he says.

Brown says he believes Hutton is the right man for the job, characterizing him as having a “21st century skill set with the common sense that comes from being a 20th century horticulturist.”

“We’re looking forward to some great opportunities to improve the industry,” he says.

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