Produce Safety Webinar for Broccoli Producers

Are you wondering what the implications of new food safety regulations are for broccoli production?  Join Eastern Broccoli Food Safety specialists Chris Callahan, Betsy Bihn, and their colleagues on Monday, May 14 at 2 p.m. EDT  for a webinar on “Produce Safety for Broccoli Producers”.

Topics will include:

  1.  An overview of produce safety
    1. Coverage thresholds and compliance dates
    2. The Food Safety Modernization Act and Produce Safety Rule
  2. Broccoli-specific produce safety considerations
  3. Overview and feedback on educational material development.

You can register for the webinar using the form below.  Registration is not mandatory, but it will help us with planning and make it easier for you to get a direct link to the webinar via email.  The form also has room for you to list specific questions that you would like to see addressed during the presentation.

The webinar is geared towards growers, but the information will also be useful to buyers, extension specialists, researchers, and others.

Eastern Broccoli Webinar Registration

Eastern Broccoli Webinar Registration

Seepage irrigation

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.

Main irrigation canals move water from water reserves in the abundant swampland to the fields. To irrigate a field, irrigation ditches are filled from those canals, then emptied when irrigation is done.

 

Irrigation water seeps sideways into the soil from the ditch. It reaches far enough that there are 12 beds between ditches. The water level is maintained precisely so that soil under the roots is wetted, but the roots are not drowned.

 

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.

 

 

Broccoli potential in Southwest Florida

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.

Monica Ozores-Hampton and her SWREC colleagues using infrared imaging to track crop growth by recording individual plants through the season.

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.

Monica Ozores-Hampton’s yield trial at the UF Southwest Florida Research and Extension Center in Immokalee, Florida. The trial is on a sandy soil using a seepage irrigation system. This February day began at a balmy 70°F, which suited the students on spring break in nearby Ft. Myers just fine. But that night temperature is too high for broccoli reaching the most sensitive stage of development (and for winter-hardened Thomas Björkman, pictured). The grassy field edge runs along an irrigation ditch. In the morning, alligators like to come out of the ditch to sun themselves on the grass.

 

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.

Many thanks, Powell

Powell Smith, a founding member of the Eastern Broccoli team, recently retired from his position as Horticultural Program Team Leader for Clemson Extension to spend more time outdoors beyond the vegetable field.   An entomologist with experience in industry and academia, Powell brought insights about southeastern agriculture and the agricultural community to the Eastern Broccoli project and served as lead for project-related Yield trials and outreach in South Carolina.  Those responsibilities now transfer fully to Brian Ward, who has been working with Powell since 2016.  No word yet on whether Brian will continue Powell’s habit of sharing sunny South Carolina weather reports with snowbound colleagues up north.

We thank Powell for all of his contributions to the Eastern Broccoli Project and wish him a long and joyful retirement.  Happy kayaking, Powell!

Powell Smith, left, with Extension agent Zack Snipes at Powell’s recent retirement party. Photo:  Cory Tanner via Brian Ward.

Broccoli thriving at new Quality trial site in Florida

Photo 1.  Broccoli plants in the second Hastings Quality trial planting, which was transplanted on 5 December 2015.  The three center rows contain plots of broccoli hybrid entries, some of which have already produced crowns.  Outer guard rows are planted to cauliflower.

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.

Photo 2. Recently transplanted third planting of 2017-2018 Hastings, FL Quality trial.  Red stakes mark plots on raised beds with centers spaced 40 inches apart. Between-plant spacing within a plot is 8 inches. Plants will be ready for crown evaluations in early spring 2018.

Recent prices in the east

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.

Terminal market prices in the East. Mean value for all Eastern terminal markets for crown-cut broccoli. Source: USDA AMS Market News

In 2016, prices remained low throughout the year. It was a tough year to expand production. Fortunately, prices recovered in 2017.

For more see our Wholesale Prices page.

Ag Secretary Sonny Purdue tours the US Vegetable Lab

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.

Broccoli crowns forming in SC Yield trial

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.

Eastern Broccoli Yield trial in Saluda County, SC

Maine Quality trials growing well despite low rainfall

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.

Thriving broccoli in Maine Quality trial plots.
Quality trial in Monmouth, Maine. Planting 1 is in the foreground. Photo taken in July 2017 by trial leader Mark Hutton.

Dr. Fan moves on after making strong contributions to broccoli economics

Eastern Broccoli team-member Xiaoli Fan defended her PhD dissertation on July 24th. She is joining the faculty in Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta. Congratulations, Xiaoli!

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

Xiaoli Fan (left) successfully defended her PhD on July 24, 2017. Her work on broccoli distribution channels will be continued by master’s student Carol Dong (middle), under Prof. Miguel Gómez (right) in the Dyson School at Cornell. Dr. Fan has taken a faculty position at the University of Alberta.

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.

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