All posts by Thomas Björkman

Broccoli is the future of food

Producers Rebecca Davis and Matt Toder of NBC Universal visited our trial site in Geneva to film a segment for their new feature on The Future of Food.  The future does look bright for broccoli! Thanks for making us part of the story.

NBC filmed a segment for The Future of Food at the Eastern Broccoli trial site at Cornell University's NYSAES in Geneva NY.
NBC filmed a segment for The Future of Food at the Eastern Broccoli trial site at Cornell University’s NYSAES in Geneva NY. 16 Aug 16

Funded again!

The Eastern Broccoli Project was successful in its renewal application, so we are moving ahead for another five years. We were awarded two years of funding and approved for an additional three years. Thanks very much to all the collaborators who made this such a high-ranking application, and to the USDA-NIFA Specialty Crops Research Initiative for funding it.
As we ramp up activities during September, you will see more news on this blog.

Summer adaptation gets even better

The Eastern Broccoli breeding pipeline is producing some great advances. Here is an inbred line from Mark Farnham’s program photographed in the depth of the South Carolina summer.

Exceptional adaptation to Eastern summers in an inbred broccoli from the US Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, SC. Photographed in mid-July 2016 following weeks on 90+ degree weather.
Exceptional adaptation to Eastern summers in an inbred broccoli from the US Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, SC. Photographed in mid-July 2016 following weeks of 90+ degree weather. Photo credit: Mark Farnham

In these growing conditions, existing varieties produce heads with significant distortion. Area growers currently don’t harvest until fall to beat the heat. This inbred can be the basis of an expanded production season.

This inbred is a candidate for a public release or protection by a Plant Variety Patent. It would be used as a parental line in a commercial hybrid variety to contribute unprecedented adaptation to the Eastern summer growing conditions. We are working with cooperating seed companies to that end.

Broccoli is popular across ages, incomes and weights

That young children dislike broccoli is a commonly held assumption. Many parents know that is entirely untrue, as their small children gobble up the little trees with abandon. USDA offers consumption statistics that help inform this question. It turns out that young children, both boys and girls eat nearly as much broccoli among their vegetables as adults to. The drop occurs with teenagers, particularly boys. Young women start eating broccoli sooner than young men, but it becomes a larger part of their vegetable consumption as they get older.

Broccoli consumption by age group. (Source USDA
Broccoli consumption by age group. (Source USDA

The statistics also show the broccoli consumption is similar among low income, mid-income, and high income consumers. There are small differences in total vegetable consumption among income groups, but not enough to support the common impression that low income consumers are not getting vegetables.
Broccoli consumption is also consistent among weight categories. There is little difference among consumers who are healthy weight, overweight, or obese. Notably, obese children eat slightly more broccoli than their lighter counterparts.

Broccoli is a large share of cooking vegetables e

Broccoli consumption by income level.  Low,300% of poverty line.
Broccoli consumption by income level. Low,<185% of poverty line; High, >300% of poverty line.(Source
ven though it constitutes only about 4% of total vegetable consumption. The majority of vegetable consumption (58%) constitutes tomatoes and potatoes, And much of the rest (26%) are salad vegetables. Cooking vegetables constitute the remaining 16%, so broccoli share of those is significant.

Our collaborators at Johnny’s Selected Seed have a nice article on timing brassica planting. The article includes good examples of how different brassicas, including broccoli, modify their development in response to temperature. They mention Imperial as the most summer-tolerant in their line. In our trials, two varities that Johnny’s carries, Imperial and Bay Meadows, are standards that have been the ones to beat.

Produce Business on southern vegetable expansion

In the May issue of Produce Business, there is an article on the rapid growth in demand for locally grown vegetables in the southeast. That article is a special box about new varieties.  the article highlights broccoli as a key vegetable that has been seeing an effort by regional growers. Powell Smith is quoted about adapting kale production  to hot sandy soil, and also noting the sad fact that it has been a decade since Clemson had a vegetable breeding program. Our new collaborator, Tim Coolong  at the University of Georgia outlines the many qualities required in varieties for them to thrive in the southeast.

The long search for May-harvested broccoli

A century ago, growers were also eager for broccoli varieties that could be harvested later into spring and early summer.

Some of the finest strains of late broccoli, however, are not in commerce, being in the hands of market-men, who have been selecting and re-selecting the stock for the last two or three generations, and from whom it is impossible to beg or buy even a single seed. In course of time, however, these will doubtless pass into the seeds men’s hands, when several late strains, later than anything at present in commerce, will be added to our list of useful varieties.
F. W. Hammond. Pilgrim’s Hatch, Essex.
In The Garden, February 1917.

This article is about white broccoli, which was raised in England in the late 19th and early 20th century. It looked virtually identical to cauliflower but was cold hardy and raised for cold-season harvest. It was typically planted in the spring and harvested in either late fall or early the following spring. Biennial types headed and were harvested in the spring, but had little heat tolerance. Growers eagerly wanted late varieties that could be harvested in May and still look good.