Why would we breed cacao in Florida?

Raymond J. Schnell, J. Steven Brown, David N. Kuhn, Cuauhtemoc Cervantes_Martinez, Cecile T. Olano, Juan Carlos Motamayor


The U.S. chocolate and confectionery industry is a major consumer of U.S. agricultural commodities. The industry uses over 3 billion pounds of sugar annually, much of it produced in Florida. Over 650 million pounds of milk and milk products, 322 million pounds of peanuts, 43 million pounds of California almonds and 1.7 billion pounds of corn syrup sweeteners are also used. The total value of these U.S. produced commodities is estimated to be over 1.5 billion USD and over 70,000 people are employed in this industry. The seed of Theobroma cacao L. is the only source of chocolate and the plant is not grown commercially in the U.S. Production of cacao in tropical America has been severely affected by two fungal pathogens causing diseases known as witches' broom (WB) and frosty pod (FP). These, along with another pan-tropical fungal disease, black pod (BP), were responsible for over 700 million USD in losses in 2001. Currently, WB and FP are confined to Central and South America; however, commercial populations in West Africa and South Asia are highly susceptible to both diseases. Traditional cacao breeding programs have only been marginally successful in producing resistant material with suitable commercial characteristics. In 1999, the USDA-ARS, in collaboration with MARS, Inc., initiated a project to apply modern molecular genetic techniques to cacao breeding. The objectives were to develop an international Marker-Assisted-Selection (MAS) breeding program focusing on disease resistance. International collaboration and the development of new disease resistant cultivars are ensuring that crop losses are manageable and contributing to a stable supply of cocoa beans for U.S. companies.


theobroma cacao; marker assisted selection; molecular markers; tree breeding; chocolate

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Proc. Fla. State Hort. Soc.     ISSN 0886-7283