Potato breeding program launches out of UF/IFAS Hastings Agricultural Extension Center

(UF/IFAS Hastings Agricultural Extension Center)

HASTINGS, Fla. — The University of Florida has launched a potato breeding program at its Hastings location to help growers in the area stay in business.


Northeast Florida is home to more than 20,000 acres of potatoes. For more than 50 years, UF/IFAS has tested different varieties of potatoes to carefully select those that grow best in Florida’s hot, humid environment.

Now, the team is expanding the project to breed the very first potato designed specifically for growing in Florida through variety trials.

“With variety trials, we can understand how existing varieties perform here in Florida,” said Christian Christensen, director of UF/IFAS HAEC. “Adding a breeding program allows us to take this to the next level to actually create varieties for Florida.”

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In other states, potatoes are typically grown in the summer and harvested in the fall, but in Florida, potatoes are planted at the end of winter and harvested in the early summer months, supplying potatoes during a gap in the market.

This provides Florida producers with unique market opportunities but also many growing challenges due to Florida’s heat, humidity and harsh climate.

“Florida’s environment is really unique compared to other potato-growing environments around the United States,” said Lincoln Zotarelli, UF/IFAS associate professor of horticultural sciences and a researcher on the potato-breeding team. “A breeder in Maine is making decisions for a variety that is as good as it can be around the country but is primarily suited for Maine. We lose opportunities by not having a breeding program here.”

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The UF/IFAS program is backed by the support of potato growers across the Tri-County Agricultural Area, which includes St. Johns, Putnam and Flagler counties.

The breeding program kicked off in 2021, and researchers expect the first Florida-bred variety to be available in roughly 7 to 10 years.

“It may take 10 years before we have something fully impactful that reaches growers’ fields,” said Zotarelli. “We are now one of 13 public potato-breeding programs around the country, but this is the first in Florida.”

Researchers hope that new Florida-focused potato varieties will help expand potato production to different areas of the state that currently don’t produce the crop.

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