MG: Can you give us a background on Fox Seeds and the breeding program?
BY: The Fox Seeds Breeding program has been in existence for over 4 decades. Originally started in the 1980’s with the Asparagus Farmers of Ontario (AFO) and the University of Guelph (UofG), a mandate was launched to develop new all-male, cold hardy asparagus hybrids suitable to North American climatic conditions. With a new breeder by the name of Dr. David Wolyn and support for local asparagus farmers in Ontario, the quest was launched and after several years of research, Dr. Wolyn developed the blockbuster asparagus hybrid now called “Guelph Millennium”. The commercial launch of Guelph Millennium was hugely successful and asparagus producers in Ontario, Michigan, and Washington quickly embraced this new cold hardy, high-yielding hybrid as their go-to planting standard. Millennium quickly became the leading asparagus hybrid used in North America.
The production regions in the northern American asparagus regions are similar to other areas in the world, including several green asparagus production zones within the EU and the UK, in numerous Baltic states, and in countries like New Zealand, China, and Japan to name a few. Fox Seeds Inc. started working with Jamie Petchel to explore the potential fit for Fox asparagus hybrids within the EU market in 2015 and in 2016, FOX Seeds and GPG entered a sales and marketing distribution agreement for markets outside of N. America.
Our relationship has been built on trust and a mutual passion to help asparagus producers all over the world in producing a high quality, flavourful and nutritious asparagus product on a sustainable basis. We are proud to call GPG our partner!
MG: What are the main varietal highlights that are being picked up by the industry in North America?
BY: All of our commercial hybrids (Millennium, Eclipse and Equinox) are currently positioned in the green asparagus production zones. Fox Seeds hybrids demonstrate superior yield performance when compared to other competitive varieties. Our hybrids demonstrate superior spear consistency and tip quality. The taste profile of our hybrids is second to none, and the longevity or production capacity of our hybrids is ultimate, with numerous production fields in N. America producing profitable yields 20 years after planting.
MG: How has the general asparagus market been in North America over the past season?
BY: Production levels have been phenomenal over the last several years; however, strong market competition from South American imports into the USA and Eastern Seaboard markets have led to heavy downward pressure on pricing at the distribution & terminal level. Vegetable consumption at the retail level was at all time highs throughout the covid lockdown periods; however, since restrictions have opened, year over year vegetable consumption (Canadian consumers) has averaged a 14% decline, with asparagus being no exception. All this has led to overly challenging market conditions for North American asparagus producers. Couple in record high oil/gas/diesel pricing and significant increases (and challenges with) in labour costs which have led to many producers who struggled to maintain profitability over this recent season.
MG: How do you enjoy eating your asparagus?
BY: As fresh as possible please, I personally like it seared on the BBQ or oven roasted with a dash of oil and salt. As a kid, I enjoyed eating it fresh while picking it along the country road sides.
MG: As a relative newcomer to the industry what have been your top 3 take aways in your new role?
BY: 1/ How much of a superfood Asparagus is! The health and nutritional benefits are second to no other vegetables!
2/ I find the 20 year perennial production unique to agriculture (with the exception of some berries and stone fruit)
3/ How asparagus is planted, pollinated, and harvested at the same time…Other than rhubarb, I can not think of any other commercial crops where these three activities happen at the same time!
MG: What elements from your previous roles in horticulture/agriculture do you think could be adopted by the asparagus world?
Failing to plan is planning to fail! Work the numbers and use them in your business to make better, informed decisions. How do we avoid the commodity price trap and find new ways to bring value or looking to efficiencies in scale and operational excellence? Collaboration and teamwork are imperative to success; agriculture is a belly business, it’s about the people! Telling our story to the urban marketplace…the rural marketplace is already part of the choir…the modern city dweller is whom we need to engage!
MG: What are the feature aims of the breeding program?
BY: Use better (and more) data to look at traits that producers value and the market is asking for. Look at new hybrids from a yield consistency perspective as opposed to just total yield (more quality spears with less spear to spear variation). Looking for new novel traits in disease resistance and drought stress. Enhanced focus on flavour and nutrition profile to name a few.
Thank you Brandon Yott for this interview opportunity. For more information regarding the asparagus varieties; Guelph Millennium, Guelph Eclipse and Guelph Equinox or any other varieties in our crop portfolio, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org