Mar 31, 2021
While broccoli is one of the most popular vegetables in the United States, every Hudson Valley farmer knows growing it here isn’t easy.
While broccoli is one of the most popular vegetables in the United States, every Hudson Valley farmer knows growing it here isn’t easy. However, if there were solutions for making broccoli cultivation, post-harvest handling and marketing in New York easier, farmers would have a new major market and pry broccoli growing dominance from the hands of the west.
For a decade now researchers have been working on a plan to do just that. Cornell University’s Eastern Broccoli Project began as the search to engineer a broccoli varietal that was hearty enough to stand up to the weather of the eastern U.S. Here, the summers are too hot and wet for broccoli to thrive at large crop sizes and packaging and shipping requires significant specialized infrastructure to cool the plants and ice them for shipping, not to mention flash freezing for the huge frozen broccoli market.
While the horticulturists at Cornell led by Project Director Thomas Björkman, were able to create broccoli varieties that are more successful in our regional conditions, growing the plant isn’t the only difficulty. The business and infrastructure hurdles an entrepreneur must clear to scale up a broccoli program to it’s full potential are numerous. Ways to address these issues on a state and regional level have been recommended in the forthcoming Eastern Broccoli Market Opportunity Assessment project report, produced by agricultural marketing firm Red Tomato. The study was made possible by an initiative of the Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation (HVADC). It was conducted under the umbrella of the Eastern Broccoli Project, with funding from Empire State Development and in-kind contributions from HVADC, the Eastern Broccoli Project and Red Tomato.
Project Manager and Red Tomato Founder Michael Rozyne says that after extensive research that included lengthy conversations with Hudson Valley farmers, our region, and our ability to service the New York City market would be one component of several in an eastern broccoli production and marketing strategy.
Rozyne says HVADC and other organizations like Cornell Cooperative Extension can be influential in the potential success of the Eastern Broccoli Project, by their ability to communicate the value of these ideas to farmers and business leaders, as well as helping producers locate funding for infrastructure upgrades.
“The amount of work that has been put into the Eastern Broccoli Project is truly astonishing,” said Todd Erling, HVADC Executive Director. “We are excited to explore the possibilities of expanding the eastern broccoli market for our farmers. The report produced by the team is comprehensive and will hopefully serve as a roadmap to a new future filled with local broccoli.”
Currently broccoli produced on the east coast is a $75-100 million business, according to the assessment, but that amount only constitutes five to ten percent of the entire U.S. broccoli industry. The western broccoli industry flourishes due to its dry heat climate, rich soils, and controllable irrigation.
“This project has been a whole lot of fun,” said Rozyne, whose team worked on the assessment for the past 15 months. “We found things that surprised us.”
Red Tomato researchers found that selling frozen New York grown broccoli to schools and institutions represented a significant immediate business opportunity. However, establishing the right arrangement with a manufacturing partner that has IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) capacity is a complicated and difficult partnership to put in place.
The report presents four recommendations for the potential for increasing broccoli production in the state and region and discusses the viability of each. In the assessment, a variety of commercial, cooperative and non-profit models are considered.
The full report is available HERE.