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Building a better carrot – Audio

organic_cornucopiaBuilding a better carrot

Phil Simon, Professor
Department of Horticulture/USDA
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
(608) 262-1248, (608) 262-1490

3:08 – Total Time

0:13 – Carrot genome mapped
0:35 – Better for growers, better for people
1:03 – More color in the market
1:27 – Each carrot color has different value
2:29 – Fresh market, canning, CSA
2:58 – Lead out


Sevie Kenyon: Building a better carrot, we’re visiting today with Phil Simon, Department of Horticulture University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.

Phil, there’s some news to talk about in the world of carrot breeding, can you tell us what that is?

Phil Simon: Recently we sequenced the carrot genome and that’s exciting news because now we know more about the basic genetic basis of carrots, it’s really fundamental information, but at the same time has some very interesting applications in helping us build better carrots in the future.

Sevie Kenyon: Phil when we talk about carrots, what are some of the goals you have for carrots?

Phil Simon: The goals we have for carrots are what can we do to improve carrots for growers and for consumers. For growers we’re interested in trying to find genes in the carrot genome that might be instrumental in developing new carrot varieties that grow faster. We’re looking at improving flavor and nutritional quality for consumers.

Sevie Kenyon: Phil, as carrots change over time what are people likely to see?

Phil Simon: Well, what I think what we are likely to see is carrots that are going to be a wider range of colors. Historically we think of carrots as being orange, in recent history now you’ll see purple and yellow and for that matter red and white carrots in the market. Interestingly, these colors all have different nutritional value.

Sevie Kenyon: If I were picking up a carrot, is it better to pick one color over another?

Phil Simon:  I would say a mixture is a good thing, though the color we focus on primarily is orange. Those orange pigments in carrots are precursors to vitamin A. Vitamin A is an essential vitamin and in fact the carrots of today are about 40 percent richer in those orange pigments than carrots of 30 to 40 years ago, but the other colors have some nutritional values as well. The yellow pigment is lutein, gives us improved resistance to the development of macular degeneration, an eye disorder, purple carrots provide some very good antioxidants which are associated with better human health, red carrots provide lycopene, same pigments what’s in red tomatoes and red watermelons which are associated with reduced incidence of some forms of cancer. So each of them have some value and so a good mix of colors is a good range of carrots to have in your diet.

Sevie Kenyon: Phil, can you give us a little snap shot of carrot production and use here in the country?

Phil Simon: The majority of carrots are grown for the fresh market, probably 80 to 90 percent. In Wisconsin larger scale production is for processing, for canning and freezing, but another aspect of Wisconsin production is the very large number of small scale growers that are primarily organic growers, growers for community supported agriculture projects Wisconsin has one of the highest number of CSA’s of any state in the country.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Phil Simon, USDA Plant Breeder, Department of Horticulture University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.