HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY — In one lab at this University of Florida research facility in Hillsborough County, they are fighting diseases that kill strawberry crops including a new one that recently started plaguing farmers.
The fungus is called Neopestalotiopsis.
“Kind of like COVID it showed up. We didn’t know anything about it. We had to figure out what it was,” said University of Florida professor Natalia Peres.
In another lab, they are figuring out ways to kill microscopic pests that love feeding on strawberry fields.
“If we do not do this work and figure out a way to sustainably control these pests you will not have a fruit,” said assistant professor Sriyanka Lahiri. Farmers send their troubled strawberry plants here to get the help they need to keep the strawberries looking and tasting great.
“If the plant doesn’t get taken care of this is what the fruit would look like. That’s why our research is so important,” said Lahiri. You might know the University of Florida is credited with creating Gatorade. Well, they’ve also come up with new varieties of strawberries.
One is called the Medallion. And another is a whole new kind of berry called the pineberry.”
“Sometimes they have a little bit of a pineapple aroma at the finish. And so because this is a totally different berry. It’s been given a different name,” said associate professor Vance Whittaker.
The Medallion not only has had a nice pointed shape but they taste better too.
“We do taste panels that are very scientific And we compare all of our newest varieties. They have to be at least as good as the previous variety and hopefully better than the previous variety,” said Whittaker. Those newer berries are starting to show up more in stores.
But the researchers here are also working on the variety called the brilliance which is the more common shiny one you see at grocery stores. Hillsborough County leads the state in strawberry production with almost 11,000 acres here.