by RYAN MILEJCZAK
Sponsored by Farm Credit of Central Florida
Florida is a major agricultural state. Even though oranges are our best known crop, Florida shines when people crave something sweet — like strawberries — in winter. Our own Plant City reigns as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World!
The strawberry we typically eat, Fragaria x ananassa, is sometimes known as the “garden strawberry.” It is a hybrid plant, created by crossing the North American strawberry species Fragaria virginiana with the Chilean species Fragaria chiloensis, creating a plant with large, tasty fruits.
On a botanical level, a strawberry is not a berry but an “aggregate accessory fruit.” While a true berry is produced from a single flower containing one ovary, a strawberry produces a number of seeds from multiple ovaries, while the ovary receptacle is what grows to be the flesh of the fruit.
You also may be familiar with “pineberries.” Rather than a separate species, these are a different cultivar of the same species as the typical red strawberry. They feature white flesh, red seeds, and a pineapple-like flavor.
In much of the country, strawberry season runs from April to June, but this can vary from place to place. For example, the Florida strawberry season runs from December through April with its peak from late February through early March.
The Economic Impact of Florida Strawberries
The United States is a major strawberry producer on a global scale. It’s second in production only to China, producing 1.39 million tons of strawberries for the 2022 season, accounting for 15% of world production.
Florida is the second-largest producer of strawberries in the US after California, producing more than $477 million in strawberries for the 2022 growing season with more than 13,000 acres planted across the state. For the period from 2018-2020, the state averaged 240 million pounds of strawberry production, most of it centered around Plant City. According to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, the total economic impact of strawberry production amounts to more than $1.1 billion for Hillsborough County alone. If laid end to end, the 30 million flats produced each year would stretch all the way from Plant City to Seattle and back again!
A number of varieties have been developed by the University of Florida, Institute
of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) breeding program, including early-yielding varieties like Florida Brilliance. These allow for an extended growing season, allowing growers to produce strawberries from November through January.
Plant City: The Winter Strawberry Capital of the World
Most strawberry production in Florida happens in and around Plant City, and it is the dominant winter strawberry producing region in the country. Because of this, it is known as The Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.
Plant City’s history with strawberries begins in the late 1800s. The region’s agriculture was originally focused on lumber, cotton, citrus, and cattle. But, between 1894 and 1895, the so-called “Great Freeze” occurred, causing record lows temperatures that, to this day, have not been surpassed.
This decimated the region’s existing agriculture, and local growers were hesitant to replant the same crops they’d lost, lest they lose them again. Thankfully, a few industrious innovators decided to grow strawberries, and soon discovered that they performed exceptionally well. By 1930, Plant City’s strawberry fields became so productive that the yearly Florida Strawberry Festival was established to celebrate this essential crop.