The Eastern Broccoli Project recently expanded its Quality trial network to include a site in the important winter growing region of northeastern Florida. Lincoln Zotarelli oversees Quality trial plantings that run from October through April at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Hastings Agricultural Extension Center (HAEC).
The Hastings location is differs from other Quality trial sites not only in the timing of its production season, but also in the way in which water is managed. 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.
Florida Quality trial plantings this season were transplanted in early October 2017, early December 2017, and mid-February 2018. All three plantings included 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 planting and in progress for the second planting (Photo 1, above). The third planting (Photo 2, at bottom) will undergo evaluation in early spring 2018.
The Hastings trial has already drawn public attention. In November, a group of 30 Florida elected officials touring grower farms in the Tri-County Agricultural area stopped by the UF-HAEC and, as part of their visit, heard a presentation on the Eastern Broccoli project and the importance of the broccoli industry to the northeast Florida economy. In December, an overview of the broccoli project and its efforts to identify new cultivars adapted to Florida conditions was presented to and discussed with 34 attendees of the station’s 2017 Cole Crop field day.
The Hastings site conducts the last set of plantings in the 14-month Eastern Broccoli Quality trial cycle that begins in February of the previous year. Already, the next Quality trial cycle has begun in Charleston, SC, where seed for a new set of trial entries was sown in February for transplant in mid-March.