Despite 99% of the nation’s artichokes being grown in the cooler, drier confines of California, one University of Florida researcher is determined to make the highly nutritious vegetable a viable alternative crop for the Sunshine State.
Shinsuke Agehara, a UF/IFAS Assistant Professor of Horticultural Sciences based at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC) in Balm, recently received a nearly $90,000 federal grant to study how to establish an artichoke system for Florida growers.
Artichokes flourish in a cool environment and generally require at least 250 cumulative hours below 50°F for bud formation. Therefore, flowering must be artificially induced to produce artichokes in Florida.
Agehara tried to grow artichokes in fields at the GCREC last winter. To overcome the chilling requirements, he treated young plants with gibberellic acid, a plant hormone that can induce the expression of the same genes activated by cold weather. This treatment artificially induced bud formation and produced beautiful artichoke buds in early spring. He’s going to continue to study this hormone treatment and other management practices to improve the productivity of artichokes this winter.
Agehara is interested in trying to help Florida farmers grow artichokes because small growers want alternative crops that are attractive and profitable. The retail price of an artichoke can be up to $5, and each plant can produce several buds, he said. Thus, the production value of artichokes is very high.
“The appeal of the artichoke in the global food market would be the high antioxidant value, as consumers are becoming more aware of health benefits of ‘functional food’ in recent years,” Agehara said. “In the local food market, the supply of locally grown artichokes will be appealing, as almost all of U.S. artichokes are produced in California, and artichokes do not have good shelflife. There are a lot of interests for locally grown artichokes by Italian restaurants in Tampa.”