A movement has begun to increase broccoliâs presence on the East Coast.
This is one of the new public breeding lines bred for improved performance for East Coast summer broccoli production.
Through a public-private partnership, fueled in part by a $3.2 million U.S. Department of Agriculture specialty crop block grant, researchers at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., are studying ways to develop varieties, expand grower production and build distribution systems for regional production.
Hoping to take advantage of local/regional produce demand, major seed companies, such as Syngenta and Monsanto, grower-shippers and regional supermarket chains are collaborating with a team of USDA/university researchers on East Coast broccoli.
Thomas Bjorkman, associate professor of vegetable crop physiology in the horticulture department at Cornellâs Geneva, N.Y., campus, said specific varieties are needed to help growers with short seasonal windows to offer a more consistent supply.
While California grows approximately 25,000 acres, acreage numbers from Maine to Florida are difficult to determine; Bjorkman estimates eastern growers plant several thousand acres. Theyâre responding to increased demand, however, and several growers are increasing production by 100 acres.
âThis project will provide growers better varieties so they can extend their season and reduce their risk,â he said. âTo get the whole market going, having a year-round supply with the quality the retailers need and expect, will be a lot easier for everyone on the supply end.â
Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc. has grown broccoli in Florida and Georgia since 2002, gradually increasing acreage. The grower-shipper has been working on a year-round program by beginning production in Virginia and the Carolinas to fill the summer gap after winter Georgia and Florida production, said Adam Lytch, operations manager.
One barrier to increasing eastern acreage involves infrastructure cost of operating cooling and icing operations, facilities not generally found in most Southeastern operations, he said.
Lytch said seed companies traditionally havenât focused on the East Coast, with challenges including varying maturities and high humidity.
Researchers and growers are studying ways to expand East Coast production of broccoli.
âWhere we used to get kind of dinged on prices versus California, thatâs not really happening anymore,â Lytch said. âWe have proven our weight and proved we can deliver our quality. In the past, we wouldnât say as much for the East Coast. Freight will continue to go up, but the freshness of the product and lower delivery costs will make a big difference.â
Lytch said the freight differential for retailers buying East Coast vs. California product can be as high as $5 a box depending on destination.
Smithâs Farm Inc., Presque Isle, Maine, has been growing broccoli since 1982, now shipping about 2 million 20-pound cartons a year from 4,000 acres in Maine and 800 acres in Florida.
Owner and partner Emily Smith frowns on the government-funded effort to expand broccoli production.
âWe have been in this business a long time, spending our own money and hours on varieties that work on the East Coast,â she said. âItâs just frustrating as the government is trying to cut your legs from beneath you. We donât need the government working against us. We canât decide how much our taxes will go up, but if they can cut out some of this unnecessary competition, they shouldnât take market share away from us.â
Growers including Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Calif., and Hansen Farms LLC, Stanley, N.Y., as well as supermarket chains including Wegmans Food Markets Inc., Rochester, N.Y., and Hannaford Bros. Co., Scarborough, Maine, are involved in the project.