Gulf Coast Research and Education Center
Gulf Coast Research and Education Center
History of GCREC – Bradenton and Dover
Vegetable Research for Florida Growers
GCREC was established in 1925 as a research laboratory to determine the cause and develop control measures for a new complex of fungi that was causing extensive losses in tomato. The diseases involved (nailhead spot, early blight, gray leaf spot and Fusarium wilt) were identified, chemical control measure established and resistant or tolerant varieties were developed. The management strategy developed for nailhead spot effectively eliminated this disease from the industry.
Soon GCREC researchers were working on understanding the etiology and management of bacterial spot and bacterial speck of tomato and bacterial spot of pepper. Several sources of resistance to bacterial spot of tomato were identified, which have been used in tomato breeding program in Florida and in commercial breeding programs throughout the world.
By 1991, a new program researching virology was established at GCREC in response to the presence of a new white-fly transmitted geminivirus, tomato mottle virus, which caused significant losses in the tomato industry. The primary focus of this program has been the identification, characterization, and management of white-fly transmitted geminiviruses.
Comprehensive vegetable field trials were carried on concomitantly with the phytopathological studies since 1925 and have provided many useful recommendations for Florida growers. Pioneer efforts with new crops considered potentially valuable resulted in the discovery of a new sweet corn variety, Iona. Continuing trails with tomato, pepper, eggplant, onion, watermelons and other vegetables helped identify which varieties were adaptable to Florida. Significant advances with research of cultural practices greatly enhanced the effectiveness of production for vegetables. Fertility investigations dealing with the interaction of major and minor elements were initiated in 1938. Rapid soil testing methods developed at GCREC provided vegetable growers with information concerning fertilizer needs of their crops.
Ornamental Horticulture Research for Florida Nurseries
GCREC started a new research program for ornamental plants and floriculture in 1945. The first effort was centered on the development of management techniques for wilt and corm rot of gladiolus. Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s much of the research focused on control of foliar diseases of cut flowers and flowering potted plants.
A decline in caladium tuber production led GCREC researchers to find solutions to the widespread tuber rot caused by Fusarium solani. Numerous commercial varieties had been abandoned at several production sites because of the high incidence and severity of tuber rot. Research at GCREC demonstrated the effectiveness of combining heat treatment of tubers with fungicide soaks in new classes of low-impact fungicides and the merits of selecting healthy seed tubers for field production.
A research program was initiated in 1981 aimed at bacterial pathogens and 10 years later a virology program was started. Research was then expanded to include work on soilborne pests and weed control. Because of the high value of floriculture crops and the precision used in cultural management practices, research at GCREC has led to many advances in cultural systems for cut flowers, bedding plants, and flowering pot plant production. Much of the research focused on systems approach to production involving interdisciplinary efforts from scientists in horticulture, plant pathology, entomology, nematology, weed science, ag economics, and soil/water science.
The Strawberry Program at GCREC
With an estimated value of $150 million, the strawberry industry represents a large segment of Hillsborough County’s agricultural income. Plant City, Florida has the largest concentration of strawberry farms in the area and in 1925, GCREC’s strawberry program was initiated with a small facility in close proximity to this thriving agricultural area. As the only publicly funded facility in the world solely dedicated to strawberry research, the primary mission of GCREC Dover was to develop and expand existing knowledge and technology of strawberry production.
Pathology studies on strawberries began in 1925. Growing concern about obtaining disease- and pest-free plants for fruit production or for establishing new nurseries was the first priority of the center. Diseases cause about 20% loss of yield of strawberries in Florida. The primary mission of the pathology program continues to focus on developing new strategies for improved control of strawberry diseases.
Cultural practices of strawberry production are continually changing. Interdisciplinary research evaluates management techniques that may increase production of high quality berries. The strawberry program faculty have investigated the influence of plant density, mulch color, planting date, bio-stimulants, plant growth regulators, pre-transplant chilling, and transplant quality on fruit production. Water management techniques are of increasing importance as Florida’s population grows and moves into agricultural areas. Initial research of microirrigation of strawberry using drip irrigation began in the early 1970’s. By determining the best times and methods to use irrigation, significant decreases in the amount of water used to grow strawberries occurred throughout the industry.
GCREC Breeding Program Highlights
GCREC’s tomato breeding program was initiated in 1945. Some of the key contributions include Manalucie in 1953 which combined resistance to more than five diseases. A joint research effort between GCREC and the H.J. Heinz Company resulted in the development of breeding lines with improved firmness with jointless pedicel trait that allowed stemless harvesting. Other successful tomato varieties from GCREC include Solar Set, dwarf variety Micro Tom, and most recently the highly successful Tasti Lee tomato.
Producers of cut flowers and flowering pot plants require a continuous input of new varieties of crops as well as potential new crops to maintain market interest. Gladiolus breeding was completed at GCREC for over 50 years and aimed towards developing disease resistant varieties that are horticulturally adaptable, highly productive and useful in landscape as well as for cut flower production. In 1976, the caladium breeding program was established. Several dozen varieties have been released from the caladium program including Florida Pink, Florida Silver, Florida Sweetheart, Florida Ruffles, just to name a few.
The goal of the strawberry breeding program is to develop a series of varieties that will provide west central Florida with a steady supply of high quality fruit from November until April. Florida 90 was one of the first varieties developed at GCREC Dover in 1952 and was considered the standard until 1967. The breeding program continued to develop many varieties still grown today including Strawberry Festival named in honor of Plant City’s Strawberry Festival ®, an annual event that celebrates the abundant crop of berries harvested in Hillsborough County.
In 2005, the Bradenton and Dover locations were combined into new center located in southern Hillsborough County in Balm/Wimauma, Florida. Research is now conducted on a 475-acre farm with 17 faculty members and over 130 employees. Still considered a leader in research for vegetable, floral and strawberry production and breeding, the center is known world-wide for the quality research supporting growers and the industry. The Diagnostic Clinic at GCREC receives hundreds of samples each year and assists growers and nurserymen alike with issues in their fields. The center is growing quickly and in 2015 completed a new addition with 16 more offices as well as a third residence for graduate students and visiting researchers. In addition to the new center in Balm, a teaching facility was created in Plant City at the Hillsborough Community College Campus. Students have the unique opportunity to obtain advance degrees in ag education and geomatics. As GCREC looks towards the future, new crops for Florida are being considered including blueberries, pomegranate, and hops. 2015 marks the 90th Anniversary of GCREC along with the 10th Anniversary of the new location and the annual Florida Ag Expo.