Okra Value Chain
Okra, Abelmoschus esculentus, is an herbaceous annual plant in the family Malvaceae which is grown for its edible seed pods. Okra plants have small erect stems that can be bristly or hairless with heart-shaped leaves. The leaves are 10–20 cm (4–8 in) long with 5–7 lobes The plant produces flowers with five white to yellow petals which are 4–8 cm (1.6–3.1 in) in diameter. The seed pod is a capsule up to 25 cm (10 in) long, containing numerous seeds. Okra can grow 1.2–1.8 m (4–6 ft) tall and as an annual plant, survives only one growing season. Okra may also be referred to as lady’s fingers and is believed to have originated in Ethiopia. https://plantvillage.org/topics/okra/infos
Planting of okra requires early land preparation as an important step for producing a good crop. Pulverizing the soil in the fall or early spring will give crop residues time to decay before okra is planted. Early land preparation also allows for many weed seed to germinate. These seedlings should be killed as you disk the soil before planting.1 Okra is an easy crop to cultivate and use and looks great throughout its growing season due to its beautiful flowers. It’s rich in vitamin A and low in calories, which makes it a great addition to your diet  . Okra can be a profitable crop when recommended production practices are followed. It can return an income over a 10- to 12- week period after harvest starts.
Okra requires a well-drained, fertile soil for its optimal growth. A soil with good water retaining capacity should be selected. Do not plant on very light, sandy soils. Soils that are poorly drained or known to have hardpans should not be planted to okra. Okra grows best on soils that have a pH of 5.8 to 6.5. A soil test will show if lime is required and will specify the amount of fertilizer to apply. If lime is recommended, use dolomitic lime. Apply it 3 or 4 months before the crop is seeded. According to research, it has been shown that okra responds to additional phosphate when soil test indicates medium to low phosphate. If your soil test indicates low phosphate, broadcast 400 pounds per acre of 20 percent superphosphate and disk it in. If the soil test indicates medium phosphate, apply 200 pounds per acre of 20 percent superphosphate and disk it in. If a soil test is not available, general recommendations are to apply 600 to 800 pounds per acre of a complete fertilizer such as 6-12-12 or 5-10-15. This can be mixed under the row or applied in a band to the side.
The use of additional nitrogen should be avoided on vigorous plantings until fruiting begins to check plant growth as okra plant has a sensitive balance between vegetative (foliage production) and reproduction (pod production). Two or more side dressings with a high analysis nitrogen material may be needed, however, depending on rainfall. It is important to supply additional nitrogen late in the season at the time the “forms” or “blooms” are concentrated in the top of the plant. Put down 33 pounds of additional nitrogen per acre at each application.
New okra varieties are not introduced as often as are those of some vegetables. However, plant breeders and commercial companies continue to improve existing varieties and some hybrids have been released. Since some processors prefer a particular variety, you’re urged to discuss this with the processor before buying seed. Some processors have a source of seed available for their growers. Buyers for the fresh market generally prefer star shaped pods; soup manufacturers prefer a round pod of the Emerald type; the frozen food industry has accepted both types in the past .
- ‘Annie Oakley’ – Nice Yield. Hybrid. 3-4′
- ‘Burgundy’ – Burgundy pods (Lose some color with cooking). Heirloom. 4′
- ‘Clemson Spineless’ – Good flavor. Heirloom. 4-5′
- ‘Emerald’ – Long pods (7-9″). Spineles. Heirloom. 4′
- ‘White Velvet’ – Tender, white pods. Heirloom. 5′
Note: Okra varieties that are labelled spineless, are less irritating, but not completely spine-free. 
Seed the okra after the soil has warmed enough for good seed establishment. Row spacing should be 28 to 38 inches apart. These spacing will require 12 to 15 pounds of seed per acre. Plant 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep, 4 to 6 seed per foot. Thin to 8 to 12 inches between plants. Corn planters, such as the Cole planter, can be used for okra if the seed plate and cog are changed to plant this size seed 
- You can start okra seeds indoors in peat pots under full light 3 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost date.
- You can also start okra directly in your garden 3 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost date as long as you cover the plants with a cold frameor grow tunnel until the weather warms up. Make sure that the covering is 2 to 3 feet tall so that the plants have room to grow.
- If you do not start your okra plants early, wait until there is stable warm weather. You can plant okra in the garden when the soil has warmed to 65° to 70°F.
- Plant okra in fertile, well-drained soil in full light about ½ to 1-inch-deep and 12 to 18 inches apart. You can soak the seeds overnight in tepid water to help speed up germination.
- If you are planting okra transplants, be sure to space them 1 to 2 feet apart to give them ample room to grow.
- Okra plants are tall, so be sure to space out the rows 3 to 4 feet apart.
- Weeds should be eliminated when the plants are young
- Mulch heavily to prevent more weeds from growing.
- Apply a layer of mulch 4 to 8 inches high. You should also side-dress the plants with 10-10-10, aged manure, or rich compost (½ pound per 25 feet of row). You could also apply a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly. Learn more about soil amendmentsand preparing soil for planting.
- When the seedlings are about 3 inches tall, thin the plants so that they are 10 to 18 inches apart.
- Keep the plants well-watered throughout the summer months; 1 inch of water per week is ideal, but use more if you are in a hot, arid region.
- After the first harvest, remove the lower leaves to help speed up production. https://www.almanac.com/plant/okra
Weed and Pest Management
Weeds can be controlled by cultivation or by use of herbicides. Early weeds can be controlled by replant herbicide applications. Later in the season, shallow cultivations can be used to control weeds.
At times it will be necessary to control insects that attack okra. Check your crop on a regular schedule, especially early in the season. This is the time that aphids usually appear. Later on, the plants and pods may be attacked by green stink bugs, cabbage loppers, corn earworms, European corn borers, and the leaf-footed plant bug.
Nematodes can cause serious losses in okra. Root-knot nematodes can be controlled by the use of approved nematocides. Nematocides are very essential if soil is infested with nematodes.
The incidence of Fusarium wilt is much greater when root-knot nematodes are present. Nematode control is a major practice in reducing Fusarium wilt presence.
Harvest and Postharvest Handling
Okra plants are scratchy and irritating and therefore not pleasant to touch, whether the spines are pronounced or hair-like. Gloves and long sleeves help. It’s also easier to harvest with a pruner, rather than pulling and getting the spines in your fingers. Okra is best when picked young. The fruits are their most tender when they’re 2-4 inches long and as wide as a pinkie finger. Okra can grow in the blink of an eye and usually reaches this size within 6 days of flowering. As okra pods get larger, they become stringy and tough. However, if growing conditions are good, even larger okra can still be tender and edible. Test for tenderness by snapping off the end of a pod. If it snaps, it hasn’t become touch and fibrous yet and should still be good for eating. If not, it makes a nice addition to a flower arrangement. As with most vegetables, okra is at its peak when freshly picked. Pods can be stored in the refrigerator for about 1 week or frozen, canned or pickled. https://www.thespruce.com/growing-okra-in-the-backyard-vegetable-garden-1403473
Harvesting for processing
Most varieties grown for processing produce pods on a brittle stem. These pods can be broken or snapped in a manner that leaves the stem on the plant and not on the pod. Okra grown for processing should be allowed to get as long as possible without becoming fibrous or hard. As long as the pod tip will snap off evenly the pod is usually still tender.
Pods 2″ to 4″ left to mature 1 to 2 days longer will yield about 2 1/3 times more weight. If left to mature 3 to 4 days longer, they will yield about 3 ½ times more weight.
Usually three harvests a week are required with process type of okra. Train your picking crews to grade okra as it is being harvested, discarding tough and damaged pods. Do not gather pods under 4 inches long. If left to reach maximum length, these pods will return a much greater weight per acre.
Harvesting for fresh market
Greater care is necessary in harvesting okra for the fresh market. Grading standards are more exact and the pods must usually be cut with a knife. Fresh market okra is usually graded into these sizes: Fancy — Pods up to 3 1/2 inches long; Choice — Pods 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches long; Jumbo — Pods over 4 1/2 inches but still tender.
Be sure your picking crews are careful to neatly trim the stem end; this can be done as the pod is cut from the plant. To keeps pods small enough to grade as Fancy or Choice it will be necessary to harvest every day during periods of rapid growth. http://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=C627
Short term storage of Okra
Spread the dry okra pods out flat, without washing, and place in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator. The okra will only hold 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator.
Long term storage of Okra
Freeze only young, tender okra. Wash and trim off stems, leaving caps whole. Blanch in boiling water for 4 minutes. Cool in ice water for 4 minutes. Drain and loosely pack the okra in freezer bags. The okra will keep for 6 to 8 months. http://www.vegetablegardenplanner.com/how-to-store/okra
Cleaning of okra generally involves the elimination of leaves, stem sections, and other types of debris from the pods. Broken pods should also be discarded. This should be done in the packing area while the pods are spread on a flat surface or conveyor belt. Okra should not be washed, since this would lead to a greater incidence of postharvest decay.
The initial grading of the harvested okra should take place in the field at the time of harvest. Pickers should separate unmarketable or damaged pods from the marketable ones. Oversized and partially decayed pods should also be removed from the plant and out-graded in the field. Even with some preliminary grading at the time of picking, the okra pods arriving from the field are usually quite variable in size, shape, and colour.
Grading for uniformity of appearance is important to satisfy the buyer. At the packing house, the pods are usually graded according to size, shape appearance and amount of surface defects. The pods intended for market must be fresh, tender, not badly misshapen, and free from decay and damage. The stems should be cut cleanly and not have the appearance of being torn off the plant.
Okra is usually graded into the following sizes:
- Fancy; pods up to 9 cm (3.5 inches) long
- Choice; pods 9 to 11.5 cm (3.5 to 4.5 inches) long
- Iumbo; pods over I1.5 cm (4.5 inches) long but still tender.
The pods should be well formed, straight, and not show signs of dehydration or discolouration. Pods which are severely curved, malformed, or have dark spots should be discarded. The pods should be tender and not fibrous, and have a colour typical of the cultivar (generally bright green). Most export markets prefer fancy grade okra.
Only uniformly appearing pods should be put in the same package. Care should be taken
to avoid injury to the pods during the grading process. The tender pods are easily damaged during handling, especially along the ribs. This leads to unsightly brown and
Okra is packed in various sized containers differing in volume and weight, depending on the market destination. Domestic markets usually receive okra in sacks or baskets, although these packages provide minimal protection to the contents. Fiberboard cartons are the most common type of package for export markets. Typical sizes used are 4.5 kg (10 lb), 7 kg (ls lb), and 14 kg (30 lb). The cartons should be well ventilated and strong. The carton should have a 275 psi bursting strength in order to avoid collapse while stacked on a pallet. One-piece self-locking cartons or two-piece telescopic cartons are the most widely used package materials. Okrra should be cooled and sent to the market as soon as possible after packing.
Okra has a high rate of respiration and deteriorates rapidly, unless the pods are cooled
soon after packing. Heat build-up will accentuate spoilage and cause pod blackening.
A bleaching type of injury may also develop when okra is held in non-ventilated harvest
containers for more than 24 hours without refrigeration. Unless intended for immediate
marketing pods should be cooled within a few hours after harvest.
The ideal storage temperature for okra is lO’C (50″F). Pod quality can be maintained for up to 10 days at this temperature. When held at higher ambient temperatures, pod quality
quickly deteriorates due to dehydration, fading of the green colour, and decay. Oka held at 25oC (75oF) will become soft and unmarketable within 2 to 3 days. On the other hand, okra held at temperatures below l0oC will develop chilling injury.
Relative Humidity Management
Oka is very susceptible to postharvest moisture loss and pod shrivelling. This results in a reduction in market quality as the pods lose their fresh appearance. In addition, pod texture is adversely affected due to an increase in toughening. In order to minimize dehydration, it is important to maintain the pods in a high relative humidity environment. Ideally, okra should be held at 95% RH.
Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality
Maturity and Quality
Okra pods are immature fruits and are harvested when they are very rapidly growing. Harvest typically occurs 3 to 7 days after flowering. Okra should be harvested when the fruit is bright green, the pod is fleshy and seeds are small. After that period, the pod becomes pithy and tough, and the green colour and mucilage content decrease.
Okra pods should be tender and not fibrous, and have a color typical of the cultivar (generally bright green). The pods should be well formed and straight, have a fresh appearance and not show signs of dehydration.
U.S. no. 1. Pods are packed based on length with Fancy, Choice and Jumbo designations for size categories. Okra should be free of defects such as leaves, stems, broken pods, insect damage, and mechanical injury. The tender pods are easily damaged during harvest, especially on the ridges and this leads to unsightly brown and black discoloration. Quality losses that occur during marketing are often associated with mechanical damage, water loss, chilling injury, and decay.
Optimum Storage Temperature
Very good quality can be maintained up to 7 to 10 days at these temperatures. If stored at higher temperatures, the pods lose quality due to dehydration, yellowing and decay. When stored at lower than recommended temperatures, chilling injury will be induced (see physiological disorders). Chilling symptoms include surface discoloration, pitting and decay. Okra can be successfully hydrocooled or forced-air cooled.
Optimum Relative Humidity
Weight loss is very high in immature okra pods and cultivars may vary in rate of water loss. A very high relative humidity (95-100%) is needed to retard dehydration, pod toughening, and loss of fresh appearance.
Rates of Respiration
Okra pods have very high respiration rates.
Temperature 5°C (41°F) 10°C (50°F) 15°C (59°F) 20°C (68°F)
ml CO2>/kg·hr 27 – 30 43 – 47 69 – 72 124 – 137. To calculate heat production multiply mL CO2/kg·hr by 440 to get Btu/ton/day or by 122 to get kcal/metric ton/day.
Rates of Ethylene Production and Responses to Ethylene
Okra pods have low ethylene production rates (<0.5 µL/kg·hr at 10°C). Exposure to ethylene reduces shelf-life by increasing pod yellowing. Responses to Controlled Atmospheres (CA)
Okra is not stored in modified atmospheres commercially. At recommended storage temperatures, CO2 concentrations of 4-10% can help maintain green colour and reduce discoloration and decay on damaged
pods. CO2 concentrations higher than 10% can lead to off flavours. Low O2 concentrations (3-5%) reduce respiration rates and may also be beneficial.
The typical symptoms of chilling injury in okra are discoloration, pitting, water-soaked lesions and increased decay (especially after removal to warmer temperatures, as during marketing). Different cultivars may differ in their susceptibility to chilling injury. Calcium dips and modified atmospheres have been reported to reduce chilling symptoms.
Freeze damage: occurs at temperatures of -1.8°C (28.7°F) or below.
Decay on okra can be due to various common bacterial and fungal organisms, but chilling and injury enhanced rots are probably the most common causes of loss. Rhizopus, Geotrichum and Rhizoctonia fungal rots as well as bacterial decays due to Pseudomonas sp. have been reported to cause postharvest losses.
Source: Perishables Handling #107, August 2001
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Grades of Okra for Processing
U.S. No. 1 consists of pods of okra of similar varietal characteristics which are fresh, tender, fairly well colored, fairly well formed, free from decay and worm holes, and free from damage caused by scars, bruises, cuts, punctures, insects, discoloration, dirt or other foreign material or other means. Pods in this grade are at least fairly well trimmed, unless specified as well trimmed or poorly trimmed.
U.S. No. 2 consists of pods of okra which meet the requirements of U.S. No. 1 grade except those for color, shape and trim. Okra in this grade may be pale green in color, moderately misshapen and poorly trimmed. https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/okra-processing-grades-and-standards
Detailed standards, Inspection Instructions & Other Resources:
U.S. Grade Standards for Okra for Processing (pdf)
Inspection Instructions for Okra for Processing (pdf)