The extension objective is developing grower networks in five eastern growing regions that together can produce a year-round supply of fresh broccoli. Recently developed pockets of broccoli production are the nuclei for expansion, with a focus on Western New York, Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina. These areas complement established broccoli producers in Maine, South Carolina and Florida. Several growers in each new region are test-producing broccoli in the 2012 growing season.
We have identified postharvest handling, principally cooling infrastructure, as a strategic limitation. Our new crop budgets revealed that cooling is a large and highly variable cost for eastern growers. Scale- and season-appropriate technologies are being investigated, with an eye towards changing retailer attitudes towards ice and tighter food-safety requirements during postharvest handling.
The profitability of broccoli relative to other vegetables a grower may have depends a great deal on the yield. In the east, broccoli has often been raised on lighter soils with yields reported in the range of 400 to 500 boxes per acre. It has also been raised in market garden situations at low populations that produce low yields and heads that are larger than the wholesale market standard. Our field trials have shown that the region’s most productive soils have the capacity to yield over 600 boxes per acre if the population is high enough and matched to the conditions.
Comprehensive extension programming focused specifically on broccoli is being developed to educate growers about production practices and to make brokers more aware of the market potential. Education sessions covering broccoli production were part of annual vegetable grower meetings in participating states, and more is being planned for year 3.
In the first year of the project, extension leaders updated regional broccoli production guides, including information on currently registered pesticides as well as knowledge gleaned from the experience of current producers and collaborating investigators in other states. Region-specific content is being developed on production season, new varieties, and integration into existing crop rotations and production practices.