Because Florida summers make it nearly impossible to grow strawberry plants outdoors, we send thousands of seedlings from our breeding program west to cooler more temperate climates for the summer. Our strawberry breeding team works year round to find that perfect combination of taste, appearance, shelf-life, and disease- and pest-resistant plants for our growers. When you consider the how much money strawberry growers invest in each season, a stable, hardy and abundant plant is key to their success. Farming is a gamble for any crop and with the short Florida strawberry season, planning and constant care of the strawberry plants are essential to have a profitable season. For some growers, the season can make or break them, so they depend on our strawberry breeding program to help them be successful.
2015 marks the last year we sent plants to our summer plant nursery in Colorado. The operation will be relocated to northern California next year. For the past 10 or so years, thousands of our strawberry seedlings have been sent to Colorado to a field at the Colorado State University’s San Luis Valley Research Center. These seedlings are potential new cultivars for future use in Florida. The strawberry breeding team prepares the seedlings that have been growing in their dedicated greenhouses here at the center and ship the plants overnight to the Colorado location. Our team then travels to the site and begins the planting process. They return late summer/early fall to dig up the plants and ship them back to GCREC to plant in the field.
As the strawberry season progresses here in Florida, our team studies the plants from Colorado to determine which plants have the traits desired by area growers. It’s hard to imagine, but out of thousands of different crossings created each year, there might only be one or two that meet the strict standards of our strawberry breeding team and strawberry growers in Florida. So each year the team might find a few successful cultivars or none at all. And, each season brings new hope for that one new cultivar that will provide growers with a profitable and delicious berry.
This entire project would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the dedication and hard work of Mr. Jim Sumler. Jim has been a component of the strawberry breeding program for nearly 30 years. Originally located at the Dover REC, Strawberry Lab, he worked closely with Dr. Craig Chandler until his retirement, and then continued his work with Dr. Vance Whitaker, our current strawberry breeder. Jim spends the entire summer tending to the plants in Colorado working closely with our team here in Florida and assisted by some staff members from the SLV Research Center. His hard work and sweat equity have been invaluable to this venture and we are very grateful that he continued this commitment to the strawberry breeding program. Perhaps one of our future varieties will be named the Sumler Berry in his honor. Here’s to you, Jim! Thank you for all your hard work.