Selection of superior broccoli hybrids involves multiple considerations, including optimization of head quality traits. Quality assessment of broccoli heads is often confounded by relatively subjective human preferences for optimal appearance of heads. To assist the selection process, we assessed five candidate head quality indices that make use of a set of individual and distinct ratings for traits such as head color, head smoothness, bead size, bead uniformity, and others. The head quality indices were tested for both a) the ability to reduce interobserver rating variability and b) the ability to emphasize specific attributes that display the greatest associations with overall horticultural quality of heads. Index development was based on datasets generated from quality evaluations by three independent raters of two replicated variety trials in Spring 2014. Relative-importance analysis was used to identify specific traits most associated with overall quality. Developed models were subsequently tested and compared using data collected by three raters evaluating two similar trials in Spring 2015. Head smoothness, bead uniformity, head color, and holding ability were found to account for 78% of the model variation in overall head quality. Intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs), which measure the degree of concordance among raters, were increased from 0.71 to 0.88 (P < 0.05) in one 2015 trial and from 0.67 to 0.80 (P < 0.05) in the second when comparing the simple overall quality assessment to the use of the index weighted by the most important individual head attributes. Thus, results showed that a quality index taking into account the relative importance of individual traits should enhance the identification of the best hybrids adapted to target conditions. This method can be used to improve concordance for subjective ratings in general.
Increased demand for fresh market crown-cut broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) has led to increased production along the eastern seaboard of the United States. Maximizing broccoli yields is a primary concern for quickly expanding eastern markets. Thus, a plant density study was carried out in Fall 2012 and 2013 using the hybrid cultivar Emerald Crown on a commercial farm in Summerton, SC, and in Fall 2013 using ‘Emerald Crown’ and another hybrid, ‘Durapak 19’, on a research farm in Charleston, SC. The objective was to determine the effect of variable within-row spacings of 4, 6, and 8 inches (using a system with double rows spaced 12-inches apart) on marketable yields and quality in the three environments. Our results indicated that increasing plant density by reducing within-row spacing to 4 inches significantly increased overall yield per hectare over the 6- and 8-inch spacing treatments at two of three environments. Stem diameter and average head weight were unaffected by plant density; however, heads harvested from plots with the highest plant densities had significantly (P < 0.01) lower bead uniformity in the Summerton 2012 trial, and significantly (P < 0.05) larger bead size in the two trials conducted in 2013. In general, the highest total marketable yields were from the 4-inch within-row spacing, but increased competition at the highest density may increase the risk of plants producing heads with lower quality characteristics. With the increased risk of producing lower quality marketable heads along with the increased production costs associated with the 4-inch spacing, yield and head quality attributes may be optimized at the 6-inch within-row spacing.