Broccoli is a high-value crop worth nearly one billion dollars per year. Although there is growing consumption in the Eastern United States, very little broccoli has been produced there. About 85% of the broccoli consumed annually on the East Coast is shipped from California and Mexico.
The Eastern Broccoli Project began in 2010 with the ambitious goal of creating a brand-new, $100 million broccoli industry in the Eastern U.S. within 10 years. Currently, the industry is valued at around $90 million. With two remaining years of funding, scientists and their collaborators are on schedule to meet their goal and create a reliable, high-quality, year-round supply of Eastern-grown broccoli for East Coast markets.
Funded by USDA, Cornell University leads the team that includes researchers from North Carolina State University, University of Tennessee, University of Georgia, University of Florida, Virginia Tech and others. For example, the team identified and exploited chromosomal markers for a cross-breeding process that results in broccoli with a dark green color, which appears more “healthy to most people” and stands to boost sales. The hybrid broccoli is being worked on by project scientists, companies, and farmers to provide a steady supply of more uniform eastern variants to the commercial markets.
Several hybrids of broccoli have been commercialized recently, and more are nearing release by seed companies. Over the next two years, the project team will work with these companies and farmers to ensure a steady flow of seeds and broccoli through the pipeline on the way to creating a $100 million industry.