Broccoli is now the easiest brassica to grow. In response to increasing demand, plant breeders have developed varieties that offer greater adaptability and trouble-free growing. In South Africa, the emphasis is on a prepacked type, which is marketed in punnets covered by plastic film. For this market, the head needs to be domed with fairly short spears that can be trimmed to comfortably fit the packing. Fairly small, uniform-sized beads make the package more attractive, but if they become too small, it is difficult to get uniform beads and florets, except under ideal conditions. Broccoli breeders tell me that eating quality is also sacrificed if the beads are too fine. The current size is about optimum.
Broccoli is marketed rather differently in some other countries. In the US, for example, they plant much closer together and harvest the heads when they are a lot smaller than ours. They cut much further down the stem and usually bunch three heads together with a coloured tape with the company logo on it, a style that requires a totally different type of broccoli. Some processors look for volume of head and some even prefer a longer spear for certain markets. The colour intensity of the spears can also play a role. The shelf life of broccoli can be problematic as enzymes in the head cause the quality and colour to deteriorate faster than with other brassicas, particularly in hot weather. The deterioration starts on the farm, so even a product leaving the farm in excellent condition may show neglect later. If farmers do not directly supply to a chain store, the product will languish on the market until sold and then be transported to and displayed in a store.
Extending shelf life
As farmers, we can’t do very much once the product is delivered to the market, but we can prolong the shelf life by slowing down the plants’ metabolism before they leave the farm. In some countries they use carbon dioxide to do this, but most countries manipulate the temperature. The first step is to harvest the crop as early in the day as possible to get the benefit of cool night temperatures. It must then reach the packhouse and be processed as soon as possible. If you can hydrocool your broccoli, so much the better, and of course, a coolroom is ideal. In very hot periods, harvesting broccoli a little earlier will also help. Paying attention to the cold chain with this crop will not only preserve your reputation on the market, it will also contribute to the end user’s confidence in your product. – Bill Kerr
Contact Bill Kerr on (016) 366 0616 or
e-mail [email protected]. |fw