OFRF Research Helps Farmers in Southeast Meet Year-Round Demand for Organic Broccoli

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Jeanine Davis and her team of researchers at North Carolina University have submitted their final report on a four-year participatory organic broccoli project funded by OFRF. The project came about in response to the large year-round demand for organic broccoli in the Southeast, and the desire of local farmers to meet that demand.

Organic farmers in western North Carolina are in a unique position to produce broccoli throughout the summer months, when it is too hot to grow it in most other areas of the Southeast. However, many farmers had been unsuccessful in the past because they were using the same varieties and cultural practices they use for their spring and fall plantings.

Summer production is more difficult and requires a more integrative approach. Heat waves at harvest can limit growers to a short harvest window before crowns loosen and bolt. Researchers tested fast maturing varieties and identified four broccoli varieties as the best performing for yield, quality, disease resistance, and insect tolerance.

The project also provided the opportunity to test and share cultivation methods, such as the use of raised beds with drip irrigation and white plastic mulch. Farmers were encouraged to establish farmscaping and trap crops in advance of broccoli planting to help reduce insect pressure and provide the benefits of a more complete organic farming system.

In 2015, about 20 new organic farmers in the region (and many more over the previous four growing seasons of this project) adopted components of the recommended practices. Interest continues to grow for summer production of organic broccoli in western North Carolina, and the researchers intend to continue providing support on varieties and organic systems management.

Read the full report here.