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What climate change means for Florida strawberry farmers

Strawberries are sorted into square batches, filling the frame of the photo.
Thomas Iacobucci
WUSF Public Media

A warming climate could bring more rain in the winter months, making berries more vulnerable to fungal diseases and pests.

Florida’s strawberry harvest is underway. Farmers are facing challenges due to climate change, but researchers are trying to help them adapt.

Vance Whitaker grows strawberries for a living, but he’s not a farmer. He’s an associate professor of plant breeding at the University of Florida IFAS extension service in Wimauma. When it comes to temperature changes, he says strawberries are resilient.

“We have so much temperature variability within a single season in Florida, because the season starts around Thanksgiving and goes, to around Easter or beyond,” he said.

Whitaker says the real climate threat to strawberries is more rain. A wetter growing season means the crop will be more vulnerable to fungal diseases. So, he’s working to create strawberries that will thrive in a wetter climate.

“I think that we're going to be able to adjust over time as things change. And I've seen some of that over the last decade that has some pretty warm winters recently. And we can see that some of our most recent varieties seem to be better adapted to heat than some of the ones that were used 10 years ago.”

As for this current season, Whitaker says it’s a wonderful time for strawberries, thanks to warm days and cool evenings.

Look here to see more about the research being done on Florida's strawberry crops

Bradley George was a Morning Edition host and reporter at WUSF until March 2022.
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