Commercial growers and home gardeners nowadays have many great strawberry varieties to choose from, thanks to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists.
Many of the popular varieties grown for commercial production and by home gardeners were created by ARS scientists with the agency's Genetic Improvement of Fruits and Vegetables Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. The ARS strawberry breeding programthe longest continually running strawberry breeding program in the United Statescelebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
In fact, three of the most popular strawberries featured in a marketing email from a popular gardening catalog this springEarliglow, Tribute and Northeasterwere developed by ARS scientists.
Earliglow, which was released in 1975, set a new flavor standard for strawberries. The berry is perfect for fresh eating, bite-sized and very sweet. High-yielding and very disease resistant, Earliglow is an excellent choice for beginners and home gardeners.
Tribute, released in 1981, produces fruit multiple times during the growing season. This variety is also easy to grow, yielding large amounts of firm fruit in the spring, summer and fall.
Northeaster, released in 1994, is prized for its high-yielding large, beautiful, aromatic fruit. The berries ripen early and freeze well. Northeaster is an ideal garden variety, growing well in light or heavy soils.
Several other notable varieties have been released by the ARS strawberry breeding program. Blakemore, released in 1931, was the first variety firm enough for shipping, making it possible for consumers all over the country to enjoy fresh strawberries. The release of Steelmaster in 1954 saved the early strawberry industry from the devastating, root-rot disease called red stele.
Throughout its history, the ARS strawberry breeding program solved problems plaguing growers and consumers. According to plant geneticist Kim Lewers, who currently oversees ARS strawberry breeding at the Beltsville lab, the program is now focused on producing nutritious, flavorful, disease-resistant varieties suitable for local year-round production.
ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.