Vanilla Breeding and Cultivation in the USA


Dr. Alan Chambers
University of Florida

Homestead, FL


Vanilla is grown and consumed around the world, but has not generally benefited from strategic plant improvement.  Plant improvement through selection and traditional breeding over that last 10,000 years has increased yield, improved disease resistance, and enhanced quality of all the major food crops.  Unfortunately, many tropical species, including vanilla, are lagging behind in terms of the techniques and technologies available to plant breeders to efficiently improve these crops.  This means we are still cultivating inferior plants and compromising on important traits which together increase costs, postharvest waste, and overall risk.  We recently published the first genomics-based diversity analysis of vanilla and found many surprises including misclassified and hybrid accessions.  Additionally, previously hidden genomic diversity has been identified within the commercial species that could lead to V. planifolia improvement strategies that comply with the standard of identity and are favorable from a regulatory viewpoint (i.e. non-gmo).  This presentation will discuss our vanilla genomics and breeding research as part of a larger program to create and release proprietary cultivars with lower production costs, higher yields, and improved quality.  The presentation will also describe our work supporting niche and specialty vanilla opportunities for domestic growers through accession selection and optimized horticultural practices.


Dr. Alan H. Chambers is a tropical fruits geneticist and breeder creating novel cultivars through deep genomic/genetic insights and advanced molecular methods. The primary objective of his program is to increase value to growers and enhance the consumer experience. He is passionately interested in superior agronomic performance, enhanced sensory and nutritional quality, optimized sustainable production through genetic solutions and gaining science-based insights enabling future genetic gains.  Current focus species include mango, avocado, papaya, banana, alpine strawberries, Vanilla, passionfruit and others.  Dr. Chambers has degrees from Brigham Young University (Genetics and Biotechnology, BS), Cornell University (Plant Pathology, MS), and the University of Florida (Horticultural Sciences, PhD).  His PhD work focused on candidate gene discovery for superior strawberry flavor.  He was recruited by PepsiCo Agro Discovery after the completion of his PhD in February 2014, and joined the faculty at the University of Florida in August 2016.