Florida strawberry growers, such as Carl Grooms, are hoping to cash in on early winter production with the new Radiance variety before California’s 36,000 acres kick in and dominate the market in March.

“There’s never been a perfect berry,” says Grooms of Fancy Farms Inc. in Plant City. “But Radiance is getting pretty close.”

He speaks from experience—he has trialed the new variety for two years.

Radiance is the latest stab at strawberry perfection from Craig Chandler (no relation to the Chandler strawberry variety), a strawberry breeder at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Gulf Coast Research and Education Center.

Radiance, which was developed for open-field production after about 10 years of breeding, is one of two varieties Chandler recently released. The other is Elyana, which was developed for production under plastic tunnels.

Radiance shines in Florida

“It looks like Radiance will be the more popular variety in Florida,” Chandler says. “It’s early. It produces fruit slightly before the Festival variety, which is the main variety in west-central Florida. It produces large attractive fruit. And most have good shape. It also has a glossy skin. Thus Radiance. It‘s aesthetically pleasing.”

Radiance also fits nicely into Florida’s marketing window to the East Coast that runs from December through February.

As supplies of the Festival variety are winding down, production of Radiance picks up. That luster could spread abroad, too, to areas such as Spain. Overseas, Radiance will be known as Fortuna.

PHOTO BY CRAIG CHANDLER, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

Elyana, named after a combination of the names of Chandler’s wife, mother and daughter, could fit where strawberries are grown under plastic. The variety is susceptible to rain and cracking, so it‘s not suited for Florida‘s open-field growing, he says.

Trials look good

Grooms grows 225 acres of strawberries near Dover. After trialing Radiance, he gives it good marks in shape, color, firmness and production early in the season.

Radiance also has a loose bush, making the berries easier to pick. Plants also yield fewer small berries than some other varieties, Grooms says.

As for the Holy Grail—taste—he gives it an 8 on a 1-10 scale.

“It’s better than most, but not as good as three or four varieties,” Grooms says.

Elyana, on the other hand, scores higher on flavor panels.

Flavor‘s important, Chandler acknowledges.

But in breeding, “Our main objective is high fruit quality,” he says. “We want resistance, too. Yield is important, but timing of yield is more important for the Florida industry. We want higher yield in December, January and February. California comes into market in March, with a lot of fruit to ship East. It impacts prices.”

Grooms agrees about the market.

“It doesn’t pay to pick them” in March in Florida, Grooms says. “A berry doesn’t quit the market. The market quits the berry.”

Shelf-life and shippability

Florida’s 8,000 acres of berries supply New York and Boston, along with nameplate cities in eastern Canada. That’s a long way up I-95.

For a clam-shelled berry to survive the 1,000 miles up the East Coast takes shippability and shelf-life.

“Festival has got firmness and shelf life to go all the way to major cities in Eastern Canada and still have some left when it gets there,” Chandler says. “Radiance is probably not as firm as Festival so there’s less shelf-life, and it will probably show more bruising. Festival is the standard for long shelf-life.”

Typically, strawberries are harvested before noon in the early season. Then into the pre-coolers they go until they’re trucked out that evening. They arrive in Boston and New York within 24 hours, Canadian cities within 48 hours. Consumers have five days or more after that before the fruit begins to deteriorate.

So far, Radiance has traveled well.

Ronnie Young, grower-shipper with BBI Produce outside of Plant City, says, “Customers seem to like it. It ships well. It has a good shine. That‘s the first thing they look at.”

It’s an easy picker too, he says. “Picks fairly easy. The workers like it. Fits in the clamshell.”

As for yield, Young says he gets 2,500 to 3,000 boxes per acre, similar to Festival.

But that could change as he becomes more familiar with the newcomer. He‘s strip trialed it for four years. But he wants to see it beyond a few rows and into full production on his 520-acre operation.

“The jury’s still out on it,” he says, adding that he‘ll plant 100 acres of Radiance next year. “It has good production timing and gives us good quality fruit throughout the season, but we need three more years before we know how to grow it.”

Radiance packs disease resistance

Radiance has pretty good resistance to anthracnose and Botrytis, the two most important disease problems in Florida, Chandler says. Elyana also has moderate to good resistance.

Festival is more susceptible to both diseases, although not extremely susceptible to either one, he says. Radiance is susceptible to Collectotrichum crown rot and Phytophthora crown rot.

From a growing standpoint, the more resistance the better. From a breeding standpoint, it’s more like Vegas.

“The more things we’re trying to obtain, the harder it is to get,” Chandler says. “If you play poker and you want a royal flush—that‘s much more difficult than getting a pair.”

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