UF/IFAS Hopes to Grow Vanilla, Meet Consumer Demand

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For dessert, how about a scoop of ice cream flavored with vanilla from Florida’s farmers? Because so many consumers enjoy vanilla, University of Florida scientists hope to help Florida farmers grow the bean.

Consumers have an appetite for vanilla. The U.S. leads the world in imported vanilla beans, said Alan Chambers, an assistant professor of horticultural sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Madagascar grows about 80 percent of the world’s vanilla, but that island lies thousands of miles from the companies that buy vanilla beans and convert them to extract, Chambers said.

That’s all the more reason UF/IFAS wants to see if Vanilla can be grown commercially in Florida.

“Everything we could grow would be consumed,” said Chambers. “We believe the market is there. It’s got huge potential.”

“There are only a few places in the U.S. with favorable conditions to grow vanilla on a commercial scale, and South Florida is one that has several advantages,” said Elias Bassil, also a UF/IFAS assistant professor of horticultural sciences who’s working with Chambers on the Vanilla research.

Chambers and Bassil, both faculty members at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida, are trying to connect the genetic and physiological dots to help South Florida farmers eventually grow vanilla.

Chambers researches genetics and breeding, and Bassil studies vanilla physiology and biotechnology to understand how the plants respond to common environmental stresses.

The scientists are studying vanilla genetics so they grow the best beans. Chambers has brought over 100 accessions to his lab. Accessions are types of plant material from which a scientist can select those genes needed to produce ideal Vanilla cultivars.

“We are mining the genetic diversity represented in our collection in order to find those key genes that underlie the most important traits associated with superior quality and productive vines,” said Bassil. “We have several modern biotechnological tools at our disposal to achieve this.”

Chambers sees potential to breed new Vanilla cultivars fit for farmers to produce plenty of the crop. He also hopes to breed great-tasting vanilla.

Vanilla has global appeal, but lacks the foundational research that led to superior crops cultivars such as apples, strawberries, tomatoes, wheat and most other food crops,” Chambers said. “We don’t even know what we’ll find when we start looking for new traits and fruit qualities. Therefore, the true genetic potential of Vanilla is still enigmatic, and vanilla science could be at the very foundation of new and exciting future possibilities to delight consumers with novel sensory attributes from vanilla-based products.”

For now, those who grow Vanilla in South Florida are hobbyists.

“We have growers and homeowners interested in producing vanilla, but we don’t have scientifically validated information and accessible resources available yet,” Chambers said.

That’s why Chambers and Bassil caution that even if they can develop a vanilla bean that grows well in local conditions, farmers would cultivate it as a secondary crop.

The two scientists envision many domestic opportunities for vanilla growers, including local, organic, domestically grown, niche quality opportunities like novel flavor combinations and added income through tourism.

With Vanilla, Chambers draws comparison to the origins of other UF/IFAS breeding programs.

“But we’re just getting started,” he said. He compared the scientists’ experimentation with blueberries 50 years ago or strawberry 100 years ago in Florida. “At least UF/IFAS has a history of crop establishment and supporting new, promising species.”

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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Posted: June 12, 2018


Category: UF/IFAS
Tags: Agribusiness, Alan Chambers, Cultivar, Disease, Elias Bassil, Flavor, Horticultural Sciences Department, News, Tropical Research And Education Center, Vanilla


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November 5, 2021

Thank you for continuing to educate us in your field of expertise

Josephine
November 5, 2021

Thank you Lisa, your commentary is very much appreciated.

Lisa
November 5, 2021

Thank you for your work. ❤️ This is very well written and easy for anyone to understand.

Brad Buck

July 27, 2021

Kenneth, I am copying Dr. Alan Chambers, the lead scientist on this research. He can help your comment/question. Alan, his comment was on the TREC blogs. Please reply. Kenneth is copied. This is interesting news. Is there any way of contacting Mr, Chambers directly. I am from Barbados in the Caribbean and am looking for a niche market product to grow on island. Thanks, bradbuck[at]ufl[dot]edu

TREC SOCIAL MEDIA TEAM

July 23, 2021

Hi Alicia. Before you cut down your tree, you should notify FDACS-Division of Plant Industry (DPI) at 1-888-397-1517 and Jeff Wasielewski, Commercial Tropical Fruit Crops Agent, UF-IFAS Extension Miami-Dade County at 305-679-0227.

Alicia
July 5, 2021

Based on the information and photos, my smaller lychee tree definitely has LEM. I’m a private homeowner, not a commercial grower. Should I contact the county and report this? The infestation is extensive and on 2/3 of the branches. Unfortunately, it seems my only recourse is to cut it down so it does not spread to my other tree.

Kenneth Erik Nilsen
June 28, 2021

I have read articles on new varieties of Vanilla plants being worked on by scientist Alan Chambers. This is interesting news. Is there any way of contacting Mr, Chambers directly. I am from Barbados in the Caribbean and am looking for a niche market product to grow on island.

Kenneth Erik Nilsen
June 28, 2021

I have read articles on new varieties of Vanilla plants being worked on by scientist Alan Chambers. This is interesting new. Is there any way of contacting Mr, Chambers directly. I am from Barbados in the Caribbean and am looking for a niche market product to grow on island.

TREC SOCIAL MEDIA TEAM

May 14, 2021

Hi Al. Dr. Carrillo has requested you bring a sample to the Florida Extension Plant Diagnostic Clinic for further analysis. The Clinic is located at our campus, 18905 SW 280 Street, Homestead, Florida 33031. You can review the Clinic's website here: https://trec.ifas.ufl.edu/plantdiagnosticclinic/.

Al
May 3, 2021

I have very tiny black insects, less than a cm long living on my litchee tree. They’re so tiny that’s it’s difficult to see them individually with the naked eye. They live in patches on the trunk. The patches, for lack of better description, look like black under arm hair. When disturbed they do not fly but continues to regroup like a herd. Are they harmful to my tree?

TREC SOCIAL MEDIA TEAM

March 29, 2021

Hi Chan. Thank you for your inquiry. Dr. Carrillo has requested you visit this website for the most up to date information: https://trec.ifas.ufl.edu/Lychee-Erinose-Mite/. Thank you.

TREC SOCIAL MEDIA TEAM

March 22, 2021

Thank you for your interest! The only document that we have available at this time is Matthew Quenaudon's master's thesis. You can find it here: https://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0054534/00001.

Chan
March 14, 2021

I have only just seen this on my lychee trees and the leaves are dying. It's spreading to other branches. My tree has only just started flowering. How do I get rid of this to avoid it taking over my entire tree? I have a younger one that's flowering for the first time and want to protect these so badly. Waited more than 10 years for the older one to flower. Help

Michael Bausher
February 23, 2021

Has this work been published? If so could you please provide a citation. Thank you

TREC SOCIAL MEDIA TEAM

September 24, 2018

It is recommended that all infested branches are cut and burn before any acaricide treatment. Pruning is the most important cultural practice against the LEM and the most efficient way to remove infestations. After pruning, removing and destroying infested branches, acaricides can be used to protect new leaf flushes as they emerge and develop. Sprays applied directly to infested leaves and branches provide poor control because of the protection provided to the mites by the erineum. Among the acaricides registered for use in lychee in Florida, the only conventional pesticide registered acaracide proven to work against LEM in other parts of the world is Agri-Mek (abamectin). Agri-Mek is a restricted use pesticide (you must have a pesticide license to use this material) and has a restriction of a maximum two applications per year on lychee. Of the other insecticides known to have activity against LEM, azadirachtin, which is extracted from neem oil provides suboptimal control of this mite. Azadirachtin is labeled for use on lychee and can be used as an alternative acaricide while additional insecticides are being explored. Azadirachtin brand names include Aza-Direct, AzaGuard, Azatrol EC, and Trilogy. Although wettable sulfur has also proven efficacious against this mite, it is not registered for use on lychee at this time. Detailed control recommendations are available at: https://trec.ifas.ufl.edu/Lychee-Erinose-Mite/.

Thomas Pritchard
September 7, 2018

What can be sprayed on the tree to kill the invader ??

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