From hops to artichokes, the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ (UF/IFAS) Gulf Coast Research and Education Center is researching the realms of possibility for alternative crops in Florida. Alternative crops are under study due to increasing competition in the United States and with other countries, such as Mexico. Many traditional crops like tomatoes and strawberries have had and continue to face declining prices. Alternative crops can be attractive for qualities such as high nutrient values, antioxidant properties and higher retail prices.
UF/IFAS assistant professor Shinsuke Agehara spoke about his current artichoke research in Florida. “We are looking for something new. New can be good for small growers,” says Agehara. Artichokes are an attractive alternative crop candidate, with California currently producing 99 percent of U.S. artichokes. Agehara believes that the market in Florida is here, but that there are a few barriers to overcome first. Artichokes are a winter crop that need 250 to 500 hours with temperatures under 50 degrees in order to appropriately bud, which provides challenges for Florida production. This is the major limiting factor, since the bud is the edible portion of the artichoke. It is important for research to find another way to stimulate the artichoke plant into flowering.
Agehara’s current studies are using artificial methods to establish budding, by applying a commercially available natural plant hormone. The artichoke plant naturally produces a growth hormone in response to cold weather that signals the formation of buds and flowering. Without the cold weather, artificial application is necessary to create a signal and response to produce the edible portion of the artichoke.
Through his research, Agehara is looking for the best artichoke varieties to produce in Florida’s climate and he is developing management practices. He has high hopes for developing a system for growers to start producing artichokes in Florida. Agehara believes that artichokes and other specialty crops provide unique and potentially profitable markets for growers in the future and he hopes to stimulate interest in this unique cropping system.
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