The Eastern Broccoli Project includes an extensive, two-tiered trial system for conducting evaluations of new broccoli hybrids to determine which are most suitable for eastern production. Broccoli hybrids developed by seed companies and public breeding programs are first tested in “Quality Trials”, which are conducted in Maine, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida. Using a protocol developed with input from broccoli breeders and wholesale buyers, Quality trial leaders rate each broccoli hybrid on more than a dozen traits that contribute to crown appearance, uniformity, ease of harvest, and durability – in short, a crown with an attractive appearance that will hold up well on the journey from farm to plate. Five commercial cultivars are included every year as a baseline, and all trial entries are coded so that trial leaders do not know the identities or sources of the plants.
Broccoli hybrids that demonstrate wide adaptation in Quality trials advance to “Yield trials”, which take place at up to eleven trial locations from Maine to Florida. Yield trials are conducted on collaborating farms using the production methods of the grower. Each trial features two or more new hybrids plus the local commercial broccoli standard. Evaluators collect data on yield, marketable yield, and field holding time, and they note any defects (such as hollow stem or rough head) that could make broccoli crowns unmarketable. New broccoli hybrids that show strong performance in both Quality and Yield trials are recommended for commercial release to Eastern growers, but it is up to seed companies to make that happen.
Due to popular demand, the Eastern Broccoli Project is now making its evaluation services available, for a fee, to any interested broccoli breeding program. Contact project director Thomas Björkman for more information.