The Broccoli Industry That Doesn’t Exist But Costs Taxpayers $5 Million

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Researchers at Cornell University are getting more than $5 million in taxpayer-funded federal grants to create a market for broccoli grown on the East Coast.

A new grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aims to bolster small-scale broccoli growers so they can “compete with the best in the world in production efficiency and quality,” according to the project summary.

About 90 percent of broccoli consumed in the U.S. comes from farms in California, and the vegetable doesn’t grow well in the northeast because the temperature doesn’t drop low enough at night. Researchers think that with new strains of broccoli, developed as part of the project, crops will fare better in the region.

There’s demand for broccoli on the East Coast — broccoli a popular vegetables in the U.S. — but not enough of a demand to spur private industries like seed companies to create new broccoli types for the Northeast, according to Thomas Björkman, horticulture professor at Cornell and the director of the project.

“Industry was not solving this on it’s own,” Björkman told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The problem was private seed companies didn’t see value in developing hybrid broccoli types that would grow well on the East Coast because the farms were too small, and wouldn’t yield large crops.

“Seed companies weren’t interested because it was a very small market for seeds,” Björkman said. “The broccoli buyers said they wanted local crops, but couldn’t find any. The farmers said that buyers only wanted large quantities.”

So, the broccoli industry would have to be built from scratch, and would need federal funds.

First, the researchers received $50,000 in 2009 to bring together various agriculture experts to discuss the project at a workshop. Then, the USDA gave the researchers $3,172,100 in 2010 for the first five years of the project, which the researchers used to develop the new types of broccoli, and do some initial consumer testing.

The new $2,019,142 grant follows two other USDA grants, totaling more than $3 million, aimed at building an East Coast broccoli industry. So far, that brings the total spent on the project to more than $5 million.

Eastern broccoli demand “cannot be met until sufficiently adapted varieties are available and the distribution network is expanded,” the summary of the project says. Researchers expect that through the project, broccoli production on the East Coast will triple.

Demand for broccoli, particularly locally-grown broccoli, is growing on the East Coast, according to the USDA. The most recent data from 2014 shows that U.S. consumption of broccoli has steadily increased. Only 10 percent of broccoli consumed in the US comes from imports, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

The the researchers will use the $2 million to provide guidance to small growers so they can compete with big broccoli companies without the uncertainty of developing a new industry.

The project has six promising broccoli types currently, and the researchers are now at the point where they can bring in seed companies to help market and sell the hybrid plants.

Björkman estimates that the project needs five more years, at the current funding level, to complete the project. By that time, “the project will have done what it needed to do. All of those gaps will have been connected, so there is a market for the seed companies to supply the Eastern markets and enough buyers,” Björkman told TheDCNF.

The broccoli grant is just one part of the USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which aims to help farmers overcome challenges like climate change. USDA announced a total of $36 million in specialty crop research funds Wednesday.

“America’s specialty crop farmers face many challenges ranging from a changing climate to increasing production costs,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release.

“Investing in cutting edge research helps uncover solutions to keep their operations viable and ensures Americans have access to safe, affordable and diverse food options,” Visack said.

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