Science Into Practice - Improving shelf life for broccoli

Broccoli is a valuable crop but, due to perishability, industry estimates are that post-harvest handling losses are in the range of five-to-seven per cent (£3-4m), while losses due to crops left in the field are as much as 10-12 per cent (£6-7m).

Maintaining nutritional quality is also a specific priority because it enables the crop to be marketed more effectively on health grounds. Broccoli is recognised as a valuable source of vitamin C and contains other important sulphur-containing phyto-chemicals such as sulforaphane, acknowledged for cancer-fighting properties.

HDC project FV 395 aims to reduce waste as well as crop losses in the field and post harvest by defining strategies for better storage. These include technologies to reduce ethylene in packhouses and storerooms, the use of ethylene antagonist SmartFreshTM and pre-harvest chemical treatments to manipulate ethylene production and response by broccoli heads. The project is also studying the use of chlorophyll fluorescence to assess maturity and shelf life.

Initial results showed that SmartFreshTM improved the visual appearance of broccoli. Pre-harvest sprays of Permasect C and Amistar used as part of standard crop protection programmes had secondary beneficial effects on the shelf life of broccoli in some cases.

Work is continuing to establish the effectiveness of chlorophyll fluorescence for predicting shelf life. Using electric-powered forklifts may be preferential in confined spaces to prevent the build up of ethylene, which can impact shelf life.

Horticultural Development Company

For details on all HDC activity, visit

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