One fascinating thing about visiting Southwest Florida farms is seeing their distinctive seepage irrigation system. I had heard it described, but I didn’t really get it until I saw it in action.
Unique soils in Florida have allowed growers there to develop a an effective irrigation system that differs in many respects from what I have seen anywhere else. Sandy soils overlay a hardpan just below the maximum rooting zone. That situation allows lateral seepage of irrigation water over considerable distances with hardly any slope.
One of the significant advantages of this system is less disease. Because all the water stays underground, it is rarer for the foliage to be wet and the humidity, while naturally high, is lower. Thus the conditions for fungal spores to germinate and for hyphae to grow are considerably less common.
A couple other unique features make the system work. First, the land is very flat. Whole fields can be irrigated where the underground water table is maintained at an exact distance below the soil surface on the bed tops. In addition, field are interspersed with vast swamplands that serve as storage for irrigation water. Irrigation water can not only be drawn from these reservoirs, but it is also returned to them at the end of an irrigation cycle.
At the end of February, Project Director Thomas Björkman had a chance to visit Monica Ozores-Hampton’s trial site at the University of Florida’s Southwest Florida Research and Education Center and farmers in nearby Immokalee and Clewiston (between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades).
The SWFREC has seven new faculty, which really adds energy. Like elsewhere in Florida, managing citrus greening is a big priority.
The research station has recovered from Hurricane Maria last fall, with some new greenhouse facilities replacing ones lost. The fields at the station are set up to use the distinctive seepage irrigation system common in parts of Florida that have sandy soils with a hardpan. The crop in the Yield Trial is growing well and should produce good results for spring. The February days were 85°, so warmer spring weather will definitely test the adaptation of these hybrids.
Vegetable farms in SW Florida are generally larger than elsewhere in the East. The smallest farm we visited raises a thousand acres of green beans and sweet corn. The land costs are moderate, and the sandy soil can be managed with appropriately scaled equipment. At this scale, vegetables reach large-scale buyers through the most prominent of eastern produce distributors.
The farms we visited all know very well how to raise broccoli efficiently. The bed system means that the plant populations are lower per gross acre than solid stands. Nevertheless, the yields have been good, pests are uncommon, and the labor has been available for harvest.
The main limitation has been access to markets. The growers noted some irony in being unable to interest south Florida buyers in local broccoli, but finding buyers in New York appreciated getting winter broccoli from closer by. A good relationship between buyers and sellers appears to allow many efficiencies that improve product quality and reduce costs.
An Eastern Broccoli Yield trial in South Carolina will soon be ready to evaluate. Trial leaders Brian Ward and Powell Smith oversaw transplant of several broccoli cultivars on the farm of a commercial grower in Saluda County, SC. The broccoli was transplanted onto plastic-mulched raised beds on 5-foot centers with 10-inch in-row spacing and 12 inch between-row spacing. The photos below show small crowns forming in broccoli plants.
Earlier in the season, the same beds and plastic were used to produce peppers; planting broccoli following another crop on plastic lets growers spread the cost of the mulch over more than one crop and is a common practice in the southeast.
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 Continue reading The Eastern Broccoli Trial System→
Broccoli is ready for harvest at a new Eastern Broccoli trial site in Tifton, GA. Tim Coolong of the University of Georgia is supervising the trial, which was transplanted at Lewis Taylor Farms in late February. Broccoli hybrids grown in this commercial production Continue reading First trial at new site in Georgia→
"Developing an Eastern Broccoli Industry through cultivar development, economically and environmentally sustainable production and delivery" is supported by the Specialty Crop Research Initiative of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, under Award No. 2016-51181-25402.