More Broccoli, Please!

Karen Adler's picture

Organic broccoli is in high demand these days, and a recent market survey by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association revealed that broccoli tops the list of organic produce items that are in short supply in the Southeast. Broccoli can be produced most anywhere in the spring and fall, but summer production is limited to cooler growing areas. As it turns out, Western North Carolina provides this type of climate due to its Appalachian Mountain terrain. Researcher Jeanine Davis and her team of farmer and research collaborators will soon be starting Phase II of a three-year OFRF/Seed Matters-funded project, Participatory Screening of Broccoli Varieties for Summer Production in Organic Systems in Western North Carolina, which will feature on-farm trials.

The project aims to enable growers in this region to meet the market demand throughout the summer months, when it is too hot to produce broccoli in most other areas of the Southeast. Dr. Davis, an Associate Professor and Extension Specialist with North Carolina State University, says that identifying varieties for organic summer production of broccoli that can solve top production challenges in this region is a high priority for local growers, as well as for markets. Strong farmer involvement in the design and implementation of the research is a hallmark of the project. The 2012 and 2013 broccoli variety trials that took place during the first two years have successfully involved farmers in variety selection, testing, and evaluation, including a consensus selection process in the field, and blind taste tests.

Another important objective is to develop a model that highlights a systems approach to organic research projects by developing an organic broccoli production system, rather than simply an isolated variety trial. Throughout the project the team is testing cultural practices that include growing the appropriate varieties on raised beds with white-on-black plastic and utilizing drip irrigation, which have thus far resulted in high yields of good tasting quality broccoli. In Phase II, farmers will be encouraged to incorporate these practices, as well as row covers, which were very effective at preventing the heavy flea beetle attacks that often occur during this season, trap crops, and farmscaping, which were shown to reduce insect problems such as cabbage worms and aphids.

The Phase I trials, which included standard broccoli for crown cut production as well as unusual broccoli types, were conducted in an organic unit on a research station. This provided a strong foundation to move the top performing varieties to on-farm trials.

Phase II of this project will take the participatory variety trials from years 1 and 2 from the research station to participating farms. Three trials will be established on organic farms to test the top five performing varieties from the 2012 and 2013 trials of over 30 varieties. A trial will also be included on the research station for consistency with the previous years and comparison to the on-farm trials.

The research conducted through these on-farm trials will support the success of organic farmers in Western North Carolina by confirming the broccoli varieties and production systems best suited for summer production in their region. We’ll keep you posted about the results. 

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