An individual grower may see price offers that seem inconsistent. While wholesale broccoli prices vary greatly among markets and with time, terminal market prices can provide a view into what is going on regionally.
The price has had a floor around $15 per box in recent years, with unpredictable spikes. Most eastern growers find $15 a break-even proposition and need a higher price to justify raising the crop. Selling continuously to catch the spikes is one way to obtain a higher average price.
In 2016, prices remained low throughout the year. It was a tough year to expand production. Fortunately, prices recovered in 2017.
The US Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, SC received a visit this past August from Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who toured the facility and expressed his support for agricultural research, including the Eastern Broccoli Project.
The clip below, from RFD-TV via YouTube, shows some highlights from the tour. Our colleague Mark Farnham, who heads the broccoli breeding program at the Lab, appears in several shots. Quality trial leader and Clemson CREC Research Scientist Brian Ward supplied the broccoli seedlings and rating charts shown at 1:31, and Ward can be seen discussing the project with Purdue at 2:02.
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.
All three Eastern Broccoli Quality trial plantings in Maine are in the ground and have held up well in the face of changeable conditions this summer. The trial is running at Highmoor Farm in Monmouth, Maine. Transplant dates were June 16, June 27, and July 19.
Rainfall is again an issue this year. From May 14 through August 16, the farm received only 4 inches of rain, about a third of the average amount. Fortunately, soil moisture was very high at the beginning of the season, and each planting has been drip-irrigated twice. Trial leader Mark Hutton reports that the quality of the trial is excellent.
The Quality trial was open for observation during a late July field day at Highmoor Farm. Thirty vegetable growers viewed the plots. The group also included the director of a regional produce distributor interested in expanding the quantity of broccoli procured from small to medium size New England farms.
Evaluations of broccoli in the first planting began on August 1. Many of the entries in that planting are now past maturity. Broccoli in the second planting should be ready for rating from late August through early September. Broccoli in the third planting is expected to produce mature crowns by mid-September.
As a graduate student in Applied Economics with Prof. Miguel Gómez at Cornell, she made big contributions to the project. First, studied seasonal effects on market efficiency of broccoli, finding that local production made the markets more efficient by reducing the likelihood of excess supply. Second, she
studied consumers’ willingness to pay for local broccoli in eastern markets finding that there is a price premium in markets where the “local” attribute is valued in general. Finally, she developed a model for finding the optimum location for cooling infrastructure that would serve multiple farms by optimizing the type of equipment to fit the scale of production, as well as the distance to farms and to markets.
Her work is the basis for current and forthcoming work with producers and food hubs. Some of that work will be done by our new team member, Carol Dong. Carol has been visiting growers and food hubs already to analyze systems and cost structures.
Broccoli crowns began appearing in North Carolina Eastern Broccoli Quality trial plots in late June. In mid-July, evaluations of hybrids in that planting were about 90 percent complete, while broccoli hybrids in the second planting (transplanted on June 12) were just beginning to show signs of heading. A third planting went in the ground on July 10.
The season in Western NC started out hot, then turned cooler in late June. Summer heat and humidity returned in July. Some Alternaria and secondary fungal infections related to minor insect damage have been noted but managed.
The limited amounts of seed available for new hybrids means that Quality trials plots are necessarily small. To achieve results that are representative of performance, plots of 15 plants per hybrid are replicated three times per planting, with three plantings per season happening at each Quality trial location.
Carol Dong, Graduate Research Assistant with Miguel Gómez at Cornell University, recently visited broccoli growers and food hubs in southwest Virginia to collect information on local production and postharvest practices and costs. She was accompanied by Agricultural Consultant Wythe Morris, who helped put together the itinerary, and Virginia Tech Extension agent Ashley Edwards.
Despite some challenges, the growers in Southwest Virginia are optimistic about broccoli and consider it an attractive crop. Dong learned about cultural practices and cost drivers in the region and will use the information to update crop budgets developed in 2012. Labor costs have increased, but that expense has been offset by a decrease in the cost of diesel. The overall cost of production is not expected to be significantly different than it was in 2012.
At the Southwest Virginia Farmers Market and Appalachian Harvest, Dong observed various cooling technologies related to her work on cost efficiencies and supply chain optimization. Top icing and refrigeration are commonly used for cooling the broccoli in the region.
The Eastern Broccoli blog and website are getting a fresh look! While the new appearance is already evident, updates to the content will take a bit longer. Key resources are still available on the site. Please let us know if you find broken links or are unable to locate specific pages.
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→
"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.