Exploring Alternative Crops for Hastings, Florida

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By Breanna Kendrick

Hastings is the potato capital of Florida, but local potato growers  recently have been facing marketing challenges and contract reductions. Therefore, interest in alternative crops for the region is growing.

Gary England, director of the University of Florida’s Hastings Agricultural Extension Center, and his team have been researching alternative crops for the Hastings area. They are conducting trials on sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, artichokes and sweet corn.

SWEET POTATOES                     
Chip growers in Hastings have had the most interest in growing sweet potatoes. England and his team have been working with sweet potatoes for three years now. A grower who is dabbling in sweet potatoes has marketed to one of the county school systems. England is excited to get fresh produce in the school systems and believes it will be a big help to the region’s growers.

Broccoli has been grown in Hastings for 10 years. “We’re researching new varieties of broccoli because we think if we can identify these varieties, we can make broccoli even more attractive to growers in parts of Florida such as Hastings as well as the rest of the eastern United States,” explains England.  “We have the plants in the greenhouse and will be starting our initial plantings in a couple weeks.”

Cauliflower is another cole crop that England and his team have been researching. “We had some trials observing varieties, and we’re having growers come by and look at them because the growers are already growing two or three varieties of cauliflower,” says England. “We’re going to have a replicated study of where we’re looking at several different varieties and also some fertilizer programs for cauliflower.”

Brussels sprouts will be in the same trial with cauliflower. England says Brussels sprouts have become popular over the past couple of years, and there’s quite a bit of interest in them. “We had some studies last year where we unfortunately timed our first trial with Hurricane Irma … Then, during our second trial, we had a huge amount of rain in January followed by a freeze,” he says. “Both of those trials weren’t great, so we’re looking forward to another look which will be initiated in October. We moved the planting back a little bit to try to avoid the hurricane season. In mid-October, we will begin to plant cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.”

Shinsuke Agehara’s artichoke research at the University of Florida’s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center got England and his team interested in some of the varieties he is growing. “Last year was our second year of an observational trial with artichokes,” says England. “We’re looking at some of the varieties Agehara is looking at to see how they do here in Hastings … It did real well last season and we’re going to expand our planting to something a little larger.” The trial will start in November.

Another crop England is trying to reintroduce is sweet corn. Sweet corn was grown commercially in the Hastings area previously. “We just planted our second fall trial … We think that there may be some marketing opportunities,” says England. “With our geographical location just off of I-95, our growers will benefit from that as trucking prices have gotten high … We just want to look at all of these crops and hope to get them into the market.”

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