John Innes Centre developing fast-growing broccoli to help avoid shortages

A new line of sprouting broccoli that goes from seed to harvest in eight to ten weeks could, in future, help with continuity of supply and reduce the UK's dependence on imports.

The cultivar, which is being developed by scientists at the JIC as part of its JIC’s GRO Institute Strategic Programme, has the potential to deliver two full crops a season in-field. It could also be grown all year round in protected conditions.

Growers would no longer be reliant on seasonal weather, helping to avoid shortages of lettuce, courgette and broccoli recently witnessed due to bad weather in Spain.

Production might also be moved into urban farms, enabling reductions in the carbon footprint of food production and supply, John Innes said.

This innovation, developed with strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), is based on the need for some plants to experience a period of cold weather before they can flower. The timing of the switch to flowering is critical for a plant’s adaptation to the environment and its resulting yield. Bearing in mind that the part of the broccoli plant that we eat is the flower buds, the research team has focused on translating this knowledge to brassica crop species.

Dr Jonathan Clarke, head of business development at JIC, said: "Here at the John Innes Centre we have been challenging the way people think about how we produce food.

"As part of this approach we are considering the potential of moving some forms of food production into contained horticultural production systems. These could range from simple glasshouse or growth rooms to more complex vertical farms. This new line of broccoli could be grown in such systems and would overcome the problem of seasonality and our dependence on imported crops."

"The new broccoli line developed at the John Innes Centre is one of a number that have been selected to address this issue and as a step toward climate-proofing our crops.

"In order for this experimental line to move towards commercialisation the next steps involve flavour and nutritional analysis and performance testing under true protected and field commercial growing conditions.

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