Initiated in 2010, Cornell University’s Eastern Broccoli Project was created to aid development of an emerging crop market for interested vegetable growers and retailers outside of the western U.S. After years of work led by Project Director Thomas Björkman, along with input from other institutions, USDA funding, and third-party grants, efforts continue to pay off — even beyond original boundaries.
Currently, there are 10 yield trial locations stretching from Maine to Florida being monitored by Project participants. As a complement, there also are five quality trial sites, which are set up to assess the ability to produce viable crowns under stressful conditions. The latest quality trial site added to the lineup (located in Northeast Florida) is producing noteworthy results, according to a recent blog post published by Project staff.
The Cornell field report points out that plots overseen by UF/IFAS Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist Lincoln Zotarelli and support staff at the Hastings Agricultural Extension Center’s research and demonstration farm differ from other Eastern Broccoli Project quality trial sites, particularly in production window timing and water management. “The very sandy soils in this region are separated from the underlying aquifer by a clay hardpan that sits within a few feet of the soil surface. This arrangement allows seepage irrigation to deliver water to plants from below the soil surface through the precise management of water table levels. All other Eastern Broccoli quality trial sites rely on drip or overhead water delivery.”
Eastern Broccoli Project specs indicate three Florida plantings include the same 31 broccoli hybrids that were rated at the four other quality trial sites (in South Carolina, North Carolina, New York, and Maine) in 2017. Evaluations are complete for the first transplanting from early October and in progress for the second from early December. The third planting will undergo evaluation this spring.
In addition, the next quality trial cycle has begun in Charleston, SC, where seed for a new set of trial entries was sown in earlier this month for transplant in mid-March.
Looking ahead to 2021, the Eastern Broccoli Project’s updated goals include:
- Bringing to market seed of new broccoli cultivars, developed in the first five years of this project, that are much better adapted to the eastern U.S.
- Introducing new breeding tools and creating germplasm even better than today’s best to produce broccoli hybrids with the adaptation, quality, and productivity to keep the crop competitive into the future.
- Developing a large grower base that can reliably supply quality eastern-grown broccoli to eastern buyers and consumers. Project Extension staff will provide production, postharvest, and food safety support.
- Enhancing distribution channels for regional fresh produce and overcoming barriers to increased distribution of eastern-grown broccoli that have not resolved in the private sector.
Stay tuned as the Project spreads its roots.