In a subtropical environment such as the one in Florida, disease resistance has been and will remain a priority for the lettuce industry. Sporadic diseases such as Bacterial Leaf Spot will continue to be important in the UF/IFAS lettuce breeding program. Currently, this program has advanced breeding lines that will become cultivars resistant to the strains of Xanthomonas hortorum pv. vitians found in Florida. Research and breeding efforts in diseases such as Fusarium Wilt of Lettuce and Downy Mildew are critical to the industry as well.
The UF/IFAS lettuce breeding program also focuses on improving issues that will dimmish yield in lettuce in a non-predictive environment including heat tolerant cultivars and the improvement of associated disorders to this stress (bolting, tipburn, etc.). Disorders in postharvest such as pinking in lettuce and other leafy vegetables are concerns to growers in the state and this program initiated the work on this issue for Florida Lettuce.
As more sustainable practices will be in demand in the future, the current UF/IFAS lettuce breeding program is identifying lettuce cultivars that efficiently uptake nutrients focusing on Phosphorus. Eventually, improving lettuce that efficiently uptakes nutrients can translate into savings for lettuce growers. The program is also seeking to improve tolerance to herbicides, as weeds are an enormous issue to lettuce growers, and they are limited by herbicide labels because of the rotational nature of the crop. Additionally, consumers in niche markets like the ones produced in protected structures can benefit from the nutritional content of lettuce. The UF/IFAS lettuce breeding program is working towards growing a more nutritious crop.