How do we manage our flower, plant and food growth cycle processes in times of uncertain weather and climates? Scientist have promising results that indicate help may be soon at hand.
Recent climate unpredictability in Spain had led to a shortage of broccoli on supermarket shelves in the UK. In a country that has not experienced food rationing since the last world war, the talk surrounding climate change and crop security, which has long been an industry reality and issue of urgency, has now become a reality for consumers and big business.
In answer to this consumer crisis, scientists at UK's John Innes Center have set themselves the task of researching methods surrounding vegetation and flower growth processes and the possibility of growing broccoli without the necessary cold weather flowering period.
The edible part of the broccoli plant we consume is actually a flower structure and in order for the plant to reach this flowering stage, several temperatures are required throughout the season. Like many other species of plant, the crop needs to undergo a period of cold weather before flowering. If broccoli does not experience cold enough weather, it flowers late, or worse, not at all, making it a high-risk crop for farmers.
Erratic weather patterns and their increasing frequency are extremely bad news for growers who can't predict yearly weather averages for plant and crop cycles.
To address this problem, crop geneticist and lead researcher Judith Irwin developed a new line of broccoli that is not only fast-growing – it goes from seed to harvest in just around two months – but is also resistant to the climatic whims of the season, since it can be grown all year round in protected conditions.
Based on past research conducted by John Innes plant biologist Caroline Dean, this development involved crossing different lines together to find the gene responsible for the heading date. Dean and her team found that small changes in a gene known as FCL result in a range of heading dates found in different broccoli varieties.
"We harnessed our knowledge of how plants regulate the flowering process to remove the requirement for a period of cold temperature and bring this new broccoli line to harvest faster," explains Irwin. "This means growers could turn around two field-based crops in one season, or if the broccoli is grown in protected conditions, four to five crops in a year."
This new development could help address the problem of seasonality and dependence on imported crops by allowing broccoli to be grown year-round in contained horticultural production systems such as greenhouses or vertical farms.
"This is a very exciting development as it has the potential to remove our exposure to seasonal weather fluctuations from crop production," she adds. "This could mean broccoli – and in future other vegetables where the flower is eaten, for example, cauliflowers – can be grown anywhere at any time enabling continuous production and supply of fresh local produce."
The researchers at the John Innes Centre are aiming to provide pre-breeding material to plant breeders and growers for year-round scheduling of Brassica vegetables. Further testing is being conducted under true protected and field commercial growing conditions to prepare this new line for commercialization.
With promising results, this study could revolutionise commercial growing options for weather dependent crops, in the case of broccoli, preparation could prevent food shortages the next time the rain in Spain becomes a pain.
For more information view the original article at John Innes Centre