Consumer demand for broccoli has grown dramatically over the last 10 years and continues to expand. During that same 10-year period, Oregon broccoli production has dropped 33%. From a peak of more than 15,000 tons in 1987, only about 5,000 tons is expected to be processed in 2017. This reduction in acreage is the result of high labor costs associated with broccoli harvest. Many processed vegetable farms maintain crews of 3-5 workers but manual harvest requires crews of 9 or more. This project aims to develop a broccoli mechanical harvest system to reduce the number of harvest workers to 3–5. The project will scale up seed production of OSU-developed broccoli cultivars with exerted heads that are easily mechanically harvested, and it will evaluate the yield and processing quality of both OSU and commercial cultivars when grown with organic and conventional practices. It will evaluate the utility of selective seed harvest and seed processing to increase head maturation uniformity and facilitate single pass mechanical harvest. The project will support farmers in integrating a high school robotics team-developed visioning system into their farm-built harvesters. Because the demand for organic broccoli is growing, the project will also develop cost effective strategies to supply N from organic fertilizers, as broccoli is a high N demanding crop. This project should increase farm/farmer and processor economic sustainability as the result of increased broccoli production acreage and profitability. It should increase environmental sustainability by diversifying processed vegetable rotations and increasing organic and N-fixing cover crop acreage. It should increase the availability of US-grown broccoli to the consuming public as well as to public schools and federal institutions, resulting in a stronger and more nutritious national and regional food system and contributing to social sustainability.
Project objectives from proposal:
Objective 1: Engage broccoli farmers in project development, delivery, results, and evaluation through the development of a farmer-led Broccoli Sustainability Task Force.
Objective 2: Evaluate available cultivars for mechanical harvest yield and processing quality under conventional and organic management and at varied planting densities
Objective 3: Describe and improve seed quality to improve maturation uniformity and facilitate single pass harvest
Objective 4: Engage farmers with a high school robotics team-developed harvester prototype to facilitate further development of inexpensive single pass mechanical broccoli harvesters
Objective 5: Develop cost effective organic broccoli fertilization regimes.