Enabling Better Broccoli Production on the East Coast
Broccoli—one of the healthiest and most popular vegetables—does not like heat. So, 90 percent of United States-grown broccoli is farmed in California, where the days are warm and the nights are cool. That means most of the broccoli in the eastern United States travels thousands of miles, losing flavor and freshness over the course of days. In a project led by Thomas Björkman, School of Integrative Plant Science, a team of 15 faculty from nine universities, as well as a score of companies in the produce industry, is working to make a year-round eastern broccoli industry possible. Phillip D. Griffiths, School of Integrative Plant Science, and Mark Farnham (United States Vegetable Laboratory, United States Department of Agriculture) have been working to develop varieties of broccoli that can grow in hotter climates—greatly expanding the regional possibilities for production. Miguel I. Gomez, Applied Economics and Management, is enhancing distribution channels for broccoli and regional fresh produce in general, with particular attention to market access for mid-sized vegetable farms that predominate in the East. Their efforts will bring economic development to communities, reduce the overall cost and carbon footprint of broccoli, increase food security by diversifying production areas—and broccoli on the East Coast will taste better, too.
This project enables a tripling of eastern production, to a farm gate value of $100 million per year, by making eastern broccoli more profitable for seed companies, growers, and distributors. Work in the lab is ongoing to improve and test broccoli varieties using the latest technologies. Hybrids developed in the last five years will enter into quality trials in different eastern locations to identify the best varieties for each environment, with consumer trials to assess flavor and value. Extension publications will help deepen growers’ knowledge of broccoli production and distributors’ resources for post-harvest handling and equipment. The team is also identifying optimal supply chain structures from farm to retail outlets, providing cost analyses, recommendations, and risk-and-trust experiments for food hubs at new locations. While the focus of this project is broccoli, consumers’ interest in the benefits of locally grown vegetables signals a transition in the produce industry—broccoli is serving as an excellent model for driving that transition.