How It Happened: FSGA & UF/IFAS’ Game-Changing Partnership for Strawberry Industry

Cultivating Florida’s Strawberry Legacy

FSGA logoIn the heart of Florida’s strawberry fields, the partnership between the Florida Strawberry Growers Association (FSGA) and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science (UF/IFAS) has not only nurtured thriving strawberry crops, but has sown seeds of innovation, philanthropy, and industrywide impact.

As far back as the early 1950s, UF/IFAS scientists have been studying how to improve strawberry production and consumption, not just in Florida, but globally. In 1982, FSGA was formed and today supports over 13,000 acres of berries, or about 15 percent of the nation’s strawberries—and virtually all the berries grown during the winter. To help those who grow the crop, which generates $500 million annually and creates $1.5 billion in impact for Florida’s economy, UF/IFAS researchers aim to develop strawberries that fight diseases and pests, but also taste and smell delicious.


Investment for the Future

Vance Whitaker poses in a strawberry field on a sunny day.
Vance Whitaker, professor and strawberry breeder at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center.

FSGA has been a steadfast benefactor of UF/IFAS, channeling a remarkable $11.4 million into various research and philanthropic initiatives. The group’s commitment has been about financial support and investing in the future of agriculture, particularly in strawberry research and Extension.

FSGA pledged financial backing for a crucial assistant researcher plant-breeding position at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC). The success of this initiative prompted UF/IFAS to solidify the position as a permanent fixture, funded by the institution. Vance Whitaker, one of two faculty members for the strawberry breeding program, emphasizes that this support was a game-changer, providing a stable foundation for impactful research in the industry.

Throughout the decades, FSGA has stood by UF/IFAS, weathering challenges and celebrating triumphs together. The association’s support has extended beyond research investment to include funding a state-of-the-art greenhouse, purchasing essential equipment, and sponsoring events that bring together farmers, researchers, and industry leaders.


Harvesting Success

The story of Florida’s strawberry industry isn’t confined to local fields. FSGA’s commitment to licensing UF/IFAS-developed strawberry varieties globally has allowed the state to make its mark on the international stage. Video: Florida Strawberry Varieties

Jack Payne shakes hands with Kenneth Parker at the Dinner of Distinction.
Former UF/IFAS senior vice president Jack Payne (left), and Florida Strawberry Growers Association executive director Kenneth Parker (right), at the 2014 UF/IFAS Dinner of Distinction.

This global reach has not only expanded markets but has also contributed to Florida’s reputation as a producer of top-quality strawberries.

Behind FSGA’s unwavering support stands Kenneth Parker, the executive director, and a passionate advocate for UF/IFAS. His involvement in advisory committees, leadership roles in the UF/IFAS Advancement Council, and representation as a CARET delegate for Florida exemplify FSGA’s commitment to being active contributors to the continued growth of Florida’s agricultural landscape.

As a testament to its dedication, FSGA has received prestigious awards, including the 2014 UF/IFAS Research Partner Award and the 2021 Corporate Partner Award from the National Agricultural Alumni Development Association. These accolades underscore the significant impact FSGA has made in advancing agricultural research and education in Florida and beyond.

“The unwavering support and engagement of FSGA with our faculty in UF/IFAS over the last 30 years has been a major driver in advancing our land-grant mission and has laid the foundation for a sustainable and profitable strawberry industry in our state,” said Rob Gilbert, UF/IFAS dean for research and UF interim senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “Whether it is providing financial support, field sites and staff assistance, participating in advisory committees, or organizing field days, the FSGA under the strong leadership of Mr. Kenneth Parker can be counted on to step up and assist UF/IFAS programs.”


Growing Forward

FSGA mascot Jammer (a strawberry) poses with UF mascot Albert (an alligator).
Florida Strawberry Growers Association mascot, Jammer (left), and UF mascot, Albert (right).

Recently, FSGA played a crucial role in securing legislative funding for the UF/IFAS Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture, a testament to their forward-thinking approach and dedication to advancing agricultural technology.

“The University of Florida just finished a fundraising campaign to propel the university forward in areas from health care to engineering to the arts,” said UF Provost Scott Angle, who was the UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources until recently. “Before moving into the next campaign, we’re taking stock of the impact of this support. In the field of agriculture, FSGA stands out among the many whose giving has made an immediate and tangible impact. FSGA didn’t give just because we had a campaign. They’ve been a part of our steady march of progress for 40 years. We’ve been thanking them for just as long and will continue to call our successes their successes, too.”

The partnership between FSGA and UF/IFAS is a flourishing testament to what can be achieved when industry leaders and academic pioneers join forces. Together, we are sowing the seeds of a thriving agricultural legacy that will be enjoyed for generations to come.


The “How it Happened” series showcases the transformational gifts made by donors to UF/IFAS during the University of Florida’s Go Greater Campaign. To learn more about creating your own impact through UF/IFAS programs with a charitable gift, please visit our website at or call the IFAS Advancement office at 352-392-1975.


Posted: January 30, 2024

Category: AGRICULTURE, , Crops, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Research
Tags: Florida Strawberry Growers Association, GCREC, How It Happened, Research, Strawberry, UF/IFAS

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