Most broccoli that winds up on South Carolinia plates comes from California, Arizona or Mexico. In hopes of changing that, so that more local food is available, research is under way on varieties that could be grown in South Carolina.
Researchers are ultimately aiming to begin an East Coast broccoli industry. Funded by a $3.2 million U.S.Department of Agriculture grant, the research is a collaborative effort between the USDA and Clemson University.
“There are no expectations that eastern broccoli will replace western,” says Mark Farnham, U.S. Department of Agriculture agricultural research services research geneticist, who helped spearhead the project. “Really, what the project is about is reducing the risks of growing broccoli.”
As part of a USDA push to fund specialty crop research, the decision to pursue the broccoli study came in part from increased farmer interest, rising fuel prices eating up West Coast growers’ profits and consumers wanting more locally grown food.
Risks that can ruin broccoli’s marketability include an early or late hard freeze or hot spring temperatures.
Dr. Powell Smith, an extension associate from Clemson conducting on-farm trials of different hybrids, believes the new varieties may extend South Carolina’s fall and spring seasons by about two weeks.
“In other words, it would increase the length of the season by about 10 percent, which may translate into 10 percent more sales,” says Smith.“Production may not necessarily increase, but existing growers would have better marketing opportunities.”
Farnham notes that trials are going “very well,” with many big growers embracing the research.
Currently 2,000 to 3,000 of the nation’s 120,000 total acres of broccoli production occur in South Carolina. As broccoli is susceptible to the same pests and diseases as the collards and cabbage farmed in the state, Farnham believes growers have the existing knowledge base to add broccoli to the rotation.