The farm gate value of major vegetable crops in Florida is over $1 billion. The state ranks first in the production value of many crops such as fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and squash, and second in bell peppers. We conduct economic research and policy analysis to help keep the industry economically competitive and sustainable. Our research covers topics on production, investment, technology adoption, and marketing.
The UF Tomato Breeding and Genetics program utilizes traditional breeding methods to develop improved hybrids and breeding lines adapted to Florida, and to understand the genetic control of important traits. Each year, approximately 50,000 plants are evaluated and selected for advancing based on several characteristics including: yield, vine strength, disease resistance, fruit size and quality (flavor, color, texture, firmness, resistance to cracking, etc.), disease and others. There are eight private breeding programs developing tomato varieties for Florida. Most of these companies rely to some extent on the UF tomato breeding program as a supplier of improved germplasm, parents of commercial hybrids, and/or finished hybrid cultivars.
The Vegetable Entomology program evaluates integrated approaches to managing arthropod pests of horticultural crops grown in the field and in protected structures. The program develops identification tools and offers workshops to growers and crop protection professionals to assist with the proper identification of insect and mite pests. Collaborations with industry provide growers with current information on chemical control of key pests with an emphasis on insecticide resistance management. Evaluations of commercially available biocontrol agents to suppress pests in protected structures are ongoing, as are assessments of habitat plants to enhance naturally occurring biological control on Florida farms.
The tomato, pepper, cucurbit (e.g., cucumber, squash, muskmelon and watermelon) industries generate thousands of permanent and temporary jobs in Florida, while covering extensive agricultural areas all over the state. Management of nutrients, water, and cultural practices is essential to maximize production, reduce costs and improve efficiency. The horticultural program focuses on developing technologies on these aspects in open-field production, as well as under protected culture with greenhouses, high tunnels, and shade houses.
Florida’s sub-tropical climate is ideal for year-long vegetable production, which is a vital part of the state’s agricultural economy. However, Florida’s environment is also ideal for diverse plant pathogens to thrive and persist, requiring grower diligence for successful disease management. Increasing foreign competition, the inadvertent introduction of exotic pests and diseases, and changes in government regulations, production practices, and consumer preferences require a continuous research investment to insure that Florida’s vegetable industry remains competitive. Research and education efforts at the GCREC provide the vegetable industry with the necessary information to reduce plant disease losses in a manner that is sustainable, economical, and environmentally responsible.
The goal of the Weed Science program is the development of integrated weed management plans for vegetable growers—enabling them to manage weeds in an effective, economically viable fashion. The weed science program emphasizes an overall systems approach to weed management with the goal of reducing weed pressure over time. This includes the safe and effective use of fumigants and herbicides in combination with biological knowledge, crop rotation, fallow programs, and cultivation. The impact of weeds on diseases, insects, nematodes, and fruit yield and quality is an important component of the research enhanced by collaborative interactions with UF scientists and colleagues.