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UC Davis: breeding for a growing strawberry market

The University of California, Davis' Strawberry Breeding Program not only offers career opportunities for students but also has an international impact. This program aims to develop strawberry varieties that cater to the diverse needs of growers, adapting to varying weather conditions, soil types, and the evolving challenges of climate change, water scarcity, and market demands.

Since its inception in the 1920s, the program's researchers have been identifying traits and patterns to breed strawberries that are tastier, easier to cultivate, and more efficient to pack and transport. Their efforts have enhanced the productivity of strawberry plants, their resistance to diseases, and the quality of the fruit, culminating in the release of 12 commercial varieties over the past nine years. This has significantly contributed to the strawberry industry in California, where strawberries are ranked as the sixth most valuable crop, boasting a market value of $2.7 billion in 2022, as reported by the state Department of Food and Agriculture. Notably, strawberries are the third most produced fruit in the United States as of 2020, with California accounting for nearly 90% of the production. The export of strawberries is also on the rise, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The strawberry giveaway won an Exhibits Award for Picnic Day 2023. The exhibit is organized each year by Amanda Saichaie (right). Mitchell Feldmann is the director-elect of the UC Davis Strawberry Program, which produces new varieties of berries for growing in California and around the world. (Trina Kleist/UC Davis)

The UC Davis campus celebrates this crop during its annual Picnic Day event, offering visitors a chance to take home a baby strawberry plant. This initiative allows individuals to witness firsthand the beauty and significance of strawberries. Mitchell Feldmann, the director-elect of the Strawberry Program and an assistant professor in the department, emphasizes the nutritional benefits and joy that strawberries bring to people globally. The program's greenhouse, managed by William Werner, nurtures about 1,200 strawberry plants in preparation for Picnic Day, demonstrating the program's commitment to community engagement and agricultural education.

The UC Davis Strawberry Breeding Program supports many strawberry growers, with about half of the strawberry acreage in California planted with varieties developed by the program. Feldmann highlights the program's collaborative efforts with researchers across the country and internationally, aiming to advance genetic and biological knowledge for the development of superior strawberry varieties. The program also plays a role in training the next generation of professionals in the strawberry, small fruit, and vegetable industries, offering students research opportunities and aiming to translate genetic discoveries into practical solutions for growers.


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