Quebec asparagus growers have become a force to be reckoned with.
After some growers were left without seed last year because of a problem with the popular Millennium variety developed at Ontario’s University of Guelph, a 30-member committee of Quebec asparagus growers decided to change the way they ordered seed.
This year, the committee combined orders to make sure every grower was covered.
“The plan was a success,” said Elaine Grignon, director of the Quebec Produce Growers Federation, based in Longueuil.
“Everybody got the seed they needed.”
The committee, formed in 2005 and representing Quebec’s largest asparagus growers, also joined together to create the bright yellow band that distinguishes local asparagus from imports.
They buy the bands in bulk to save money, then sell them to local growers, Grignon said.
Quebec now has 50 growers producing more than 2.47 acres of asparagus.
“The number goes up each year as asparagus becomes more popular,” she said.
Just before the season begins in May, potential buyers receive a note advising them to save shelf space for Quebec asparagus since consumers will soon be asking for it.
As of June 12, 80% of this year’s crop was harvested, Grignon said. The season is expected to end by June 28.
Though Quebec didn’t experience the frost that hit other areas, cool nights during the first two weeks of June slowed growth, which helped keep prices good, she said.
To help Quebec growers keep tabs on their North American competitors, the federation compiles a weekly newsletter on growing, harvesting and prices in Ontario and the U.S.
“Our growers are free to sell at the price they want, but we offer a recommendation,” Grignon said.
This year, Quebec growers have shared information with their Ontario counterparts about prices and the growing season for the first time.
“Exchanging information is profitable for both parties because we know exactly what’s going on and we can react,” she said.
The weekly updates also tell growers every time local asparagus is mentioned in the media.
“Last year, growers invested $6,000 in the committee and they had a $100,000 return on their investment in terms of publicity,” Grignon said.