New E.D. at Asparagus Farmers of Ontario
There’s a new leader at the Asparagus Farmers of Ontario.
The province’s oldest non-profit marketing board at 84 years, the Asparagus Farmers of Ontario represents the province’s growers. About three-quarters of Canada’s asparagus is grown in Ontario. The organization is still considered a marketing board under provincial legislation and anyone growing more than two acres of asparagus must be a member.
Brandon Yott took over as the new executive director earlier this spring. He comes to the position with an extensive background in agriculture. Originally from Chatham, there was a connection to agriculture on his mother’s side of the family. It started an interest that resulted in Yott majoring in agriculture at the University of Guelph.
After school, he ended up working in research and development for Syngenta, working on seed treatments amongst other research. Then he worked for the Agromart Group in Belton, ON, where he was product development and marketing manager. In this role, his responsibilities included precision agriculture, marketing, rebranding and working to match farmers up with new companies.
“That was a great role to give me the bigger picture of the agriculture market,” he said.
Yott was then off to A and L Laboratories, working on business development, precision agriculture and new biological crop protection formulations.
In his latest role, he will lead not only the Asparagus Farmers of Ontario but also its seed business Fox Seeds Inc..
Yott is aware asparagus is a small market and one of his main challenges will be to increase demand for asparagus. He is early in this work, but sees one potential solution in making the public more aware of asparagus, how to cook it and why it’s healthy.
He knows labour is a huge problem for producers, not only the last two years during COVID, but also on an ongoing basis. One of Yott’s first tasks will be to talk to individual producers about their issues they face.
“Part of it is being an ear and listening to their challenges,” he said.
A new strategic plan for AFO will be another task to prepare it for the business of the future.
On that note, increasing demand will be a core task. While it is early to see what form this will take, Yott knows he needs to work with retailers, social media, celebrities and to create more recipes.
“If we can drive overall demand for asparagus, it helps the whole industry,” he said.
One change that is being seen with asparagus growers, that isn’t that different than farming as a whole, is the number of individual producers is going down. The acreage, presently about 4,000, is staying constant.
“Our acreage doesn’t change as much as the number of producers does,” he says.
Fox Seeds was created, in partnership with the University of Guelph, after development of Guelph Millennium, the main variety grown in Ontario, Quebec and northern states. One of the early program objectives was to develop varieties that did not suffer as much damage to the asparagus plants during harsh winter conditions. While the current variety addressed that,
Yott said they are looking for improvements in other areas such as pest resistance, tip quality and stem diameter.
While Cindy Rouet is the Fox Seeds asparagus breeder, Yott’s extensive experience in this area will add to the future possibilities.
“The foundation starts with seed,” he said.