Researchers with UF/IFAS are looking into vanilla’s worth as a new alternative Florida crop.


Vanilla is a favorite flavor in this country according to a Vegetable and Specialty Crop News (VSCNews) article, and a group of University of Florida scientists are hoping to help Florida farmers to capitalize on that popularity. They are examining whether vanilla beans could be a viable alternative Florida crop. Explore the research that is on-going into bringing vanilla bean crops to The Sunshine State.

Vanilla’s Viability as an Alternative Florida Crop

According to the article, nearly 80 percent of the world’s vanilla is grown in Madagascar, an island country that is thousands of miles away. Companies would be eager to buy a vanilla bean crop that doesn’t have to be transported over such a large distance. Additionally, there are only a few places in the U.S. where commercial vanilla could b grown, and South Florida is one. “Everything we could grow would be consumed,” said Alan Chambers, an assistant professor of horticultural sciences with UF/IFAS. “We believe the market is there. It’s got huge potential.”

Chambers and Elias Bassil, another UF/IFAS assistant professor of horticultural sciences, are researching the genetics of vanilla beans in an effort to create a genetically superior vanilla bean. “We are mining the genetic diversity represented in our collection in order to find those key genes that underlie the most important traits associated with superior quality and productive vines,” said Bassil. “We have several modern biotechnological tools at our disposal to achieve this.”

The two maintain that vanilla beans have not been studied and improved through breeding and other scientific efforts like other crops, meaning there is a lot of potential. “Vanilla has global appeal but lacks the foundational research that led to superior crops cultivars such as apples, strawberries, tomatoes, wheat and most other food crops. We don’t even know what we’ll find when we start looking for new traits and fruit qualities. Therefore, the true genetic potential of Vanilla is still enigmatic, and vanilla science could be at the very foundation of new and exciting future possibilities to delight consumers with novel sensory attributes from vanilla-based products,” Chambers explained.

The two envision vanilla as a secondary alternative Florida crop. “We have growers and homeowners interested in producing vanilla, but we don’t have scientifically validated information and accessible resources available yet,” Chambers said.

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