Ontario variety transforms provincial asparagus industry

July 20, 2016

An asparagus variety developed at the University of Guelph has been a catalyst for growth that has transformed the Ontario asparagus sector.

Developed by Prof. David Wolyn, Guelph Millennium has been on the market since 1997 and was recognized as Seed of the Year in 2005 for its longevity, extreme winter tolerance, and high yields of up to 9,000 pounds per acre – more than double that of previous varieties.

“Guelph Millennium has had a major impact on our sector. It has meant the difference between a viable asparagus industry in Ontario versus small struggling operations,” says Bernie Solymár, Executive Director of Asparagus Farmers of Ontario (AFO). “It has been an impetus for the organization and the industry to grow.”

Over 95 per cent of all new asparagus plantings and 90 per cent of all Ontario asparagus acreage are now Guelph Millennium. Outside of the province, 70 per cent of Michigan’s asparagus acres and new plantings are Guelph Millennium, and acreage increase of the variety in Washington State has also been strong in recent years.

Solymár credits funding support the sector has received over the years through programs administered by the Agricultural Adaptation Council (AAC) as a significant contributor to the rejuvenation of Ontario asparagus.

“Funding we’ve received through AAC has supported the University of Guelph breeding program, which is now looking at newer generation varieties that we hope will be launched in upcoming years,” explains Solymár.

Additional AFO projects over the years have focused on marketing strategy, competitiveness, and development of alternate markets through Individual Quick Freeze (IQF) value-added asparagus, as well as on-farm food safety and integrated pest management programs specific to asparagus.

And the work is ongoing: current projects include yield, density and variety trials, and testing of TomCast, a disease prediction system to benefit AFO growers.

For a small sector like asparagus, the ability to access funding through AAC has allowed the AFO to expand its capacity and complete industry-wide projects it wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford, Solymár says.

“It’s an industry with a very rosy outlook right now. Asparagus acres have increased by about 600 – 700 acres in the last three years, so we’re seeing a bit of a surge,” he adds.

Asparagus Farmers of Ontario is the province’s oldest marketing board, with approximately 85 growers and 3,200 acres of asparagus producing a crop with a farm gate value of $25 million.

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