A North Carolina State University horticulturist is a member of a team of agricultural scientists that has embarked on what may be a decade-long effort to grow a $100 million broccoli industry on the East Coast.

The effort is backed by a $3.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with an additional $1.7 million in matching contributions from participating private-sector companies. The funding will be used to help develop broccoli varieties to suit conditions in the eastern U.S., recruit farmers, and organize networks for growers and distributors.

Led by Cornell University, the effort includes North Carolina State University, USDA, five other universities and 11 companies, including Raleigh-based L & M Companies.

While some broccoli is grown along the U.S. East Coast, the vast majority of the broccoli purchased and consumed in the eastern U.S. is grown in California and Arizona and trucked across the country, said Jeanine Davis, associate professor of horticultural science in the North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and North Carolina Cooperative Extension specialist. Davis, who is stationed at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River near Asheville, will represent North Carolina State in the project.

“This is an opportunity for our farmers that will result in fresher broccoli for our consumers,” said Davis of the project. She added that a central focus of the project will be plant breeding. Most of the broccoli now grown in the eastern U.S. was developed for growing conditions in the western part of the country. Much of this breeding work will be done at a USDA Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, S.C.