PLANT CITY, Fla. — To keep their fruit competitive, make sure it survives transit and always has a sweet taste, Florida growers continually invest in new and better-performing varieties.

This season, one of the newer varieties, radiance, is bringing a bounty of fruit at the deal’s start.

“We have significantly increased our radiances,” said Shawn Pollard, salesman for Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC.

“Last year, it was a little elongated. But the shape and color look real nice. The fruit size is good, and it’s a nice berry.”

Unlike treasures, one of the deal’s leading varieties, the radiances seem to advance well in cool growing conditions, Pollard said. He said the radiance’s smaller plants also make for easier harvesting and produce highly visible fruit.

While festivals, the leading Florida variety, represent 65% of Astin’s production, the grower-shipper doubled its radiance production. The new variety increased to 25% of its plantings with treasures at 15%, Pollard said.

Astin is also experimenting with winter star, a new variety. Astin planted 1.5 acres of the variety.

Radiances account for the majority of berries grown by Winter Haven-based SunnyRidge Farm-Dole.  

Keith Mixon, president, said the variety represents 60% of its plantings with festivals at 40%.

He said SunnyRidge Farm-Dole stopped growing treasures because the variety ran its course and experienced of a lot of disease pressure.

SunnyRidge Farm-Dole tests new varieties through its research and development plots.

“We have to have such tests because things move and change so fast that what’s good today may not be good five years from now,” Mixon said.

“If we’re not involved aggressively in R&D, demand might decrease. We need to do our part and remain committed to R&D. We have alliances and agreements around the world with breeders.”

Gulf Coast Produce Inc., Dover, increased its radiance plantings while decreasing its treasure plantings.

At 50% of its plantings, radiance is the grower-shipper’s largest-planted variety, said Steve Machell, sales manager.

“We’ve shipped it (radiance) over the last couple of years,” Machell said.

“This year looks to be the best we’ve seen so far. The customer comments are excellent.”

Last year, radiance accounted for 20% of Gulf Coast’s acreage. Still big in plantings, festivals represent 45% of acreage with treasures at 5%.

Wish Farms, Plant City, also boosted its radiance plantings.

“Radiance is one of the early producers, but some of the other varieties also saw an earlier start this year,” said Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer.

“We have always maintained a good mix of varieties. It helps with keeping production fairly steady versus having peaks and valleys where one is going down, the other is coming up.”

Though festivals remain Wish Farms’ biggest variety, it accounts for less than half of plantings, with radiances second. Treasures and camino reals, as well as two California varieties, palomars and albinos, constitute the balance.

The variety mix for BBI Produce Inc., Dover, remains consistent. The grower-shipper grows festivals on 70% of its acreage with radiance accounting for the balance.

Chris Smith, sales manager, said BBI’s grower owners remain satisfied with the mix.

Smith said radiance possess some positive traits.

“The size looks good,” he said in early December.

“The shape is great. We have been picking radiances for 10 days. They’re a little earlier, which is why we plant them. The festivals are just now starting to pick in numbers.”

Salinas, Calif.-based Colorful Harvest LLC grows region-specific proprietary and university-developed varieties.

Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner, declined to state his varietal mix, but said the way the grower-shipper handles varieties yields better tasting berries.

“They’re redder more often for the consumers, which we know they like,” he said.

“We personalize our variety strategy by region.”  

Oxnard, Calif.-based Red Blossom, which grows and ships from Plant City-based McDonald Farms, is growing more radiances, said Craig Casca, Red Blossom’s vice president.

“The variety looks great,” he said. “It’s the newer variety. Strawberries have a certain life cycle. We like the way it looks, tastes and its appearance. It blends in well with the albinos we have in California.”